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Confluences and Divergences of Some Major Actors’ Interests in the Indo-Pacific
For several decades, we have witnessed deep, rapid and often unexpected transformations in international relations. Emerging economies have gradually become the engine of the world economy, and in terms of international relations, they have reconfigured the balance of power, so that the triad made up of the United States, the European Union and Japan was joined by the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), but also other countries, such as Indonesia and Turkey, with ambitious foreign policy goals.

Axioms of a permanently changing world[1]

The term Indo-Pacific, coined in the 1920s by one of the “fathers of geopolitics”, Karl Haushofer (from the perspective of the relevance of thalassocracy in this region), had been forgotten for a long time. Until recently, the conventional name of Asia-Pacific was the dominant one. In 2007, however, the old concept of Indo-Pacific was reactivated, out of a myriad of motivations not only of an economic nature, but especially geostrategic. In order to reflect this change one needs to resort to a brief review of major changes in international relations since the end of the Cold War[2] and especially after 2000, at the height of globalization, despite growing protectionist trends from 2016-2017.

For several decades, we have witnessed deep, rapid and often unexpected transformations in international relations. Emerging economies have gradually become the engine of the world economy, and in terms of international relations, they have reconfigured the balance of power, so that the triad made up of the United States, the European Union and Japan was joined by the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), but also other countries, such as Indonesia and Turkey, with ambitious foreign policy goals.

Of the developing countries, only three exceed at present the status of regional leaders: China, India and Russia. In literature, India and Russia are not recognized as global leaders, but several arguments entitle us to consider them so: (1) in 2019, they occupied in the ranking of countries worldwide according to their nominal GDP, the 5th and 11th positions[3], respectively (China, second only to the United States), their strengths in terms of resources and capacity of the knowledge economy being indisputable; (2) geopolitically, both are noteworthy, Russia more than India, geopolitical determinants having an even more important role in shaping international relations than economic ones, especially in the context of the New Great East-West Divide[4], after the takeover of Crimea by Russia; (3) exceeding their sphere of regional influence is obvious, the intense participation in the trade, investment, capital flows being an undeniable proof of their internationality; (4) their activity in international organizations, correlated to the fact that they know how to defend their national interest, even when they have to say no to a great power, is a sign of their solid international position.

China, India and Russia are all three in the Asia-Pacific region, an area that is configured as an axis mundi, bringing together an overwhelming share of the world’s population, gross world product, international trade and investment.

Between 2011 and 2017, the firm “US pivot” to this region was evident (through the initiatives taken by the former President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). Instead, since 2017, during President Donald Trump’s term, radical changes in the US foreign policy have marked a completely opposite direction, with the withdrawal from a series of international agreements and an indisputable anti-globalization trend, culminating in the US-China trade war, but also redefinitions of US priorities at the confluence of the two oceans, the Pacific and Indian.

Strategic relevance of the Indo-Pacific

The concept of the Indo-Pacific, accompanied by attributes such as “free and open” gained true international recognition and spread only after the adoption of the US National Security Strategy (NSS)[5] in December 2017 and the reiteration of this term on any occasion by US representatives, at international meetings.

Although this notion has been reactivated since 2007 (Box 1), the attention of the international community has only been really captured by the new connotations attributed to the concept of the Indo-Pacific by Donald Trump.

In the NSS, China and Russia are described as revisionist powers, eroding “American security and prosperity”, while India is placed in the center of the region stretching from the west coast of India to the west coast of the United States, the most populated and dynamic part of the world. It is a kind of a compensation for India’s unfulfilled desire to join the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum.[6] The NSS mentions the transformation of India into a global power and strategic and defense partner for the US, with which it intends to intensify the US-Japan-Australia-India cooperation framework, while supporting India’s cooperation relations in the region. It is a redefinition of the Indo-Pacific relations, in an attempt to counter China’s increasingly obvious role (considered an actor as “harmful” as Russia) and to attract other major players, such as India.

More recently, in the “Strategic Approach to China” (May 2020),[7] the United States once again highlighted the many challenges posed by China, mainly in terms of economic relations, values ​​and security.

Box 1: Reactivation of the Indo-Pacific concept starting with 2007

The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first to mention in the Indian Parliament the notion of the “confluence” of the two oceans, from the perspective of strengthening cooperation between Japan and India. In 2007, Japan also launched the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (“Quad” or G4), having as participants the United States, Japan, India and Australia, as a reaction to China’s economic and military rise. In August 2016, Shinzo Abe presented the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy (FOIP) at the TICAD[8] VI conference in Nairobi. This time not to “court” India, but to boost cooperation with the African countries. The Australian government, in turn, defined the new power relations in the Indo-Pacific in its “Defense White Paper” of 2013, followed by the “Foreign Policy White Paper” in 2017.

How correct and fair are the allegations against China remains to be analyzed on another occasion. It is clear that the already established powers are not willing to share their position as leaders with other states, even if they have dominated the world economy in the past.[9]

In his speech at the Shangri-La Dialogue (Singapore) in June 2018, the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi presented his own vision of the Indo-Pacific, “from the shores of Africa to the Americas,” extending even further the space defined by President Trump: (1) the region is free, open and inclusive (encouraging the idea of ​​a region of cooperation, not confrontation and rivalry); (2) Southeast Asia is the center of this region; (3) there is a need for common rules to be applied, multilateralism and regionalism, respect for the rule of law; (4) the freedom of navigation must be ensured, so that the sea lines are “paths to prosperity and corridors of peace” (indirect reference to territorial disputes in the South China Sea); (5) protectionism must be avoided, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) being a concrete example of joint efforts to liberalize trade and investment; (6) beyond the requirement to increase connectivity through infrastructure development, there is a need especially for trust between regional and global actors, all initiatives in this regard (hence also the Chinese New Silk Road initiative, BRI) must respect “sovereignty and territorial integrity, the principle of consultations, good governance, transparency, viability and sustainability”. The debt burden must be avoided (also a reference to the BRI, which is wrongfully labeled a “debt trap”), and India is ready to cooperate with all actors, already contributing to the capital of the newly established banks (the New Development Bank launched by the BRICS countries - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank initiated by China).

Including in this extended area not only the countries of Asia-Pacific, but also the states of the American continent with access to the Pacific Ocean and the African countries bordering the Indian Ocean, results a group of over 80 actors, of which, however, the core consists of 25 (participants in the APEC Asia-Pacific Cooperation Forum, RCEP Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, synonymous with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEAN[10] plus 6 and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership CPTPP) (Figure 1). 

Figure 1: “Centre” of the Indo-Pacific

Note: United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) includes in the region Asia-Pacific 53 member countries (also the United Kingdom, France, Netherlands and Turkey) and nine associate members. Among these, the most relevant are the participants at APEC, RCEP and CPTPP. (Source: Australian Government (2017), “Foreign Policy White Paper”, updated version.)

Increasing the European Union’s presence in the Indo-Pacific

In the context revealing the influence in the Indo-Pacific as an indisputable barometer in terms of the strength of a country or a group of states, since 2016 (when the EU Global Strategy was adopted), one can remark the sustained efforts of the European Union towards acquiring a more relevant role in the region. But all this must be interpreted in the framework of increasingly obvious intra-EU tensions, associated with the intensification of xenophobia, nationalism and populism amid the migration crisis of 2015-2016, whose reverberations will not disappear in the near future but will probably intensify. Pursuing an expanded role should also be interpreted taking into account the priorities of the new “geopolitical” Commission headed by Ursula von der Leyen, guided by the objectives of increasing the EU’s role and influence in the world.

One should not omit the three countries that are not part of Asia-Pacific, but which have a major influence in the region from a historical perspective: Great Britain, France and the Netherlands, members of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia-Pacific (UNESCAP). The three have a history marked by the presence in Asia of the: British East India Company (1600-1857), the Dutch East India Company (1602-1799) and the French East India Company (1664-1769), but also by the multiple forms of manifestation of colonialism until 1942-1944. To these should be added Germany, with a strong economic presence in the region.

In contrast to Germany, the three, Britain, France and, to a lesser extent, the Netherlands have reactivated their ambitions to become global powers again. Of these, the United Kingdom in particular has begun to redefine its strategic alliances with countries and groups of countries, with a view to regaining a leading role on the global stage. From the Brexit perspective, the British government had already set an ambitious vision for the Kingdom's global mission, and in this context, the reactivation of partnerships with Commonwealth[11] countries (especially India) is evident.

The EU Global Strategy of 2016 was followed by the participation of the President of the European Council in the ASEAN summits starting with 2017, the completion of negotiations for the “new generation” free trade agreements with Singapore, Vietnam and Japan and the adoption in September 2018 of a Strategy for connecting Europe and Asia.

Given the close economic relations,[12] but also the existing tensions with the US and China, the cooperation of the Indo-Pacific countries with the EU is seen in favorable terms. The EU negotiations for trade agreements with countries such as Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand continue, and the resumption of negotiations with the whole group of ASEAN countries is not ruled out in the near future.

Interregional cooperation is attractive, especially since prominent players in the Indo-Pacific are looking for partners to counterbalance China’s rise, but also to counter the high number of unknown elements in the US relationship, generated by the renewed “America First” strategy.

Although most countries in the region treasure a strong partnership with the United States in order to have a more favorable negotiating position with China, however they do not agree with many elements of the “America First” strategy. The exacerbation of unilateralism and nationalism, the withdrawal of a number of international agreements, the emphasis on protectionism and the restriction of immigration are just a few elements that can define the strategy reintroduced by President Donald Trump. At the same time, cooperation with China cannot be ruled out. India itself, which refuses to participate in the BRI, is a member of the Asian Bank for Infrastructure Investments and supports a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. For the ASEAN countries, the deep transformations the Chinese economy is going through (increasing domestic production costs, accompanied by the relocation of production capacity abroad, the transition to a development model less dependent on exports and investment and more focused on domestic consumption) generates a number of opportunities.

It is important to note that the EU countries are committed to expanding and deepening their cooperation relations with ASEAN on the basis of “mutual respect, common interests and values ​​shared by both parties”. At the same time, the EU relies on a credible international order based on clear rules, which is essential, not only in the field of international trade, but also in regional security and climate change.

Therefore, with the US withdrawing from international agreements (such as the Paris arrangement on climate change, but also the Nuclear Agreement with Iran, the INF Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and many others), the EU can take the lead in the Indo-Pacific where the US “abdicated”.[13]

Nevertheless, the EU’s too rigid stance on the “Asian path to regional integration”, by imposing too high standards, rejected by most Asian partners, but also the massive subsidization of some sectors of activity (such as agriculture), generate sometimes a hostile attitude from them. This reaction is reflected in practice, inter alia, by abandoning negotiations for an EU-ASEAN free trade agreement and the absence of an EU-ASEAN strategic partnership, while ASEAN has already entered into strategic partnerships with Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, South Korea, but also with the US and Russia.

The trajectory of the EU is similar to that of Japan, for example. Analyzing Japan’s foreign policy strategy “Free and Open Indo-Pacific”, recent studies show that Japan has not only emphasized the importance of complying with the rules of the multilateral system, including the rule of law and freedom of navigation (regulatory issues), but it has also stepped up its efforts to provide countries in the region with concrete alternatives to China’s proposed development projects.

In fact, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations is “wooed” by all the actors in the Indo-Pacific, being attractive from the perspective of cooperation with China, which will be addressed in a separate section.

It is also interesting to point to the increase of the EU’s presence in the Indo-Pacific, directly and indirectly, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, the “Europe Team” has mobilized over EUR 800 million to fight the pandemic in the ASEAN countries. The virtual meeting of EU and ASEAN foreign ministers on 20 March 2020 and the stated objectives are evidences in this regard.

The EU’s relations with countries and groups of states in the region can be analyzed from several perspectives, beyond trade and investment flows with actors in the Indo-Pacific. In this context, we consider essential: (1) the directions of action of the EU expressed by its institutions in strategies and action plans related to this space; (2) the priorities of bilateral strategic partnerships; and (3) the EU’s position in international and regional organizations and at summits (such as the Asia-Europe Meeting and the EU-ASEAN). In the following sections we will briefly address two of these.

Priorities of some bilateral partnerships

With the exception of Brazil, all other EU strategic partners are from the extended Indo-Pacific (China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, but also the US, Canada, Mexico and South Africa).

With regard to relations with China, the Community institutions now consider that threats and challenges prevail in the bilateral relationship, not opportunities. China is described in the Joint Communication “EU-China - A Strategic Oulook” of March 2019 as “an economic competitor in the pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance”. Of the ten concrete actions proposed by the European Commission and the EU High Representative for Security and Foreign Policy, the following are noteworthy: subsidies and forced technology transfers, public procurement, 5G security (sector where the Chinese company Huawei is the undisputed leader) and monitoring foreign investment in assets, infrastructure and critical technologies.

Bilateral tensions have gradually intensified, with current relations contrasting with the situation in 2015, when the EU and China jointly launched the Connectivity Platform, which would create the conditions for highlighting the complementarities between the Investment Plan proposed by the European Commission in November 2014 (the “Juncker Plan”) and the Chinese Silk Roads on land and at sea (the BRI, announced in 2013).

Although there is no confrontation of the same intensity with that between the US and China between the two strategic partners, the EU’s demands on China in terms of reciprocity and a level playing field (synonymous with the elimination of unfair competition practices) are increasingly strong. All that remains to be done is to obtain a common position of the member states on issues of common interest (whether it is the position on territorial disputes in the South China Sea, human rights or the New Silk Roads), which is almost impossible to be achieved.

Almost half of the EU countries have signed a memorandum of understanding with China for their participation in the BRI. [14] With a few exceptions (Greece, Italy, Portugal), the old EU Member States remain skeptical and critical when it comes to recent Chinese initiatives (such as the New Silk Roads and 17+1), considering them a way to divide Europe. They have repeatedly exerted pressure on the largest emerging economy in terms of: reciprocity of market access, labor and environmental standards, human rights, reduction of overcapacity and subsidies to state-owned companies, which are only some of the many requests that fall into the category of sensitive topics in the bilateral relationship. Definitely, the position in the Eurosceptic current or, on the contrary, in the Euro-optimistic one, greatly influences the attitude of the EU Member States towards China.[15]

The Chinese authorities highlight the benefits of the participation of countries in the world (including the EU ones) in the BRI. [16] Thus, the Joint Communiqué of the leaders of the countries participating in the BRI Forum of May 2017, signed by 30 countries, highlighted as basic principles of cooperation the following: consultations on equal positions, mutual benefit, inclusion, cooperation based on market mechanisms, balance and sustainability. Emphasis was placed on existing infrastructure and complementarities, promoting trade and investment and strengthening cooperation in the field of innovation. At the same time, the 30 signatory countries reaffirmed their commitment to an open economy, free and inclusive trade and the rejection of all forms of protectionism.

By contrast, recent studies[17]  draw attention to the “debt trap” that accompanies the implementation of the BRI. At the same time, in countries such as Germany and France, suspicion regarding the BRI predominates, with companies in these countries fearing China’s competitive leap.

It is interesting to note that the President of France, Emmanuel Macron, organized on March 26, 2019 in Paris a summit on global governance and the challenges of multilateralism, which was attended by President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the President of the European Commission at the time, Jean-Claude Juncker. On the one hand, it is a clear signal to China that the EU’s core is showing unity in achieving its economic and political goals in relation to China (which, in fact, it expects from other member states, too). On the other hand, the message to China is that the EU wishes to play an active role in the BRI, but with China taking into account Brussels’ demands. The theme of the meeting also draws attention to the fact that, given that the US led by Donald Trump no longer supports the multilateral system, China represents for the EU a potential partner for strengthening multilateralism.

Conversely, the 22nd EU-China Summit by videoconference on 22 June 2020 revealed the essence of the disagreements between the two sides: “we do not share the same values, political systems, or approach to multilateralism. We will engage in a clear-eyed and confident way, robustly defending EU interests and standing firm on our values”.

While the EU’s relations with China have become increasingly strained starting from 2016-2017, the EU’s partnership with India has entered a beneficial phase. First, at the 13th bilateral summit on 30 March 2016 in Brussels, the Action Agenda 2020 was adopted, with specific initiatives in areas such as politics, security, human rights and global challenges. Second, following the Joint Declaration adopted at the 2016 summit, the EU and India announced in July 2017 the creation of a mechanism to facilitate EU investment in India. Third, at the 14th bilateral summit, held in New Delhi on 6 October 2017 (the year in which the two partners celebrated 55 years of diplomatic relations), India and the EU expressed their commitment to strengthening the bilateral economic partnership and, at the same time, the intention to relaunch the negotiations for the broad-based and mutually beneficial Free Trade Agreement (BTIA), while announcing the launch of a platform for energy and climate change cooperation and a partnership for sustainable urbanization. The bilateral strategic partnership focuses on economic issues, such as trade, investment, energy security, technology transfer, sustainable urbanization, but also the principles of global governance (including the need to support a multipolar order).

For its part, the 15th EU-India online summit on 15 July 2020, at which the document “EU-India Strategic Partnership: A Roadmap for 2025” was adopted, underscores the intensification of the EU’s cooperation with India.

ASEAN’s position towards China

The strategic partnership between ASEAN and China dates back to 2003. Subsequently, bilateral strategic partnerships with China were signed by: Indonesia (2005), Vietnam (2008), Laos (2009), Cambodia (2010), Myanmar (2011), Thailand (2012) and Malaysia (2013). Brunei and the Philippines entered the group of China’s strategic partners late (bilateral relations were elevated in November 2018 to the ranks of strategic cooperation partnership and comprehensive strategic cooperation, respectively). Singapore is the only ASEAN country that does not have a clearly defined strategic partnership with China, and one factor that may explain this situation is its position as the most important strategic partner for the United States in the region. However, China-Singapore bilateral cooperation is intense, and the latter is one of the promoters of strong ASEAN-China ties, as well as the successful conclusion of trade negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) (ASEAN plus China, South Korea, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand).

ASEAN countries support the BRI, but, in accordance with the principles of the organization, prefer a multilateral initiative led by several actors. Most ASEAN members have signed a memorandum of understanding, a joint statement or other forms of cooperation documents with China, attesting their support for the BRI. All the ten countries are members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and are currently negotiating / implementing projects under the BRI.

All ASEAN countries have a pro-growth and pro-development agenda and, with the exception of Singapore, need additional resources to finance their infrastructure development, as well as other priorities included in their national development plans. It should also be noted that nine of the ten ASEAN countries were represented by their Heads of State/Government at the second BRI Forum in Beijing in April 2019, and the Indonesian President was also likely to have attended that forum, if he had not been engaged in important activities related to his re-election. In terms of trade in goods, China is the main trading partner for eight of the ASEAN countries and the second for two of them (in the case of the Republic of Laos, Thailand dominates bilateral trade flows, with 51.6% of the total in 2018, and for Brunei the first trading partner is Japan, with 22.8% of the total).

 China’s importance for the ASEAN group of countries has increased in recent years in terms of foreign direct investment (FDI). A marginal investor ten years ago, China became the third largest foreign investor for ASEAN, after the United States and Japan, in terms of FDI stocks.

Among the ASEAN countries, one can identify four categories, depending on the specific of their relations with China within the BRI. First of all, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam stand out, five of the six ASEAN countries with the highest nominal GDP (in current prices). In general, they pursue their national interest and have the ability to negotiate with their partners, even with China. Second, there are the least developed countries, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The first two are in the category of BRI supporters, while in Myanmar there is already a new trend of imposing more conditions such as transparency, social and environmental responsibility and the protection of the national interest. Third, it stands out Brunei, which in November 2018 was included in China’s group of strategic partners and signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation within the BRI. Given the declining oil and gas reserves and the decreasing of long-term revenues from the exploitation of natural resources, the Sultanate of Brunei is focusing on economic diversification, and China is one of the relevant partners in this regard.              

Brunei is the second richest country in ASEAN, with a GDP/capita of over $ 30,000 (after Singapore, with over $ 65,000/capita). With an insignificant public debt to GDP ratio and major current account surpluses, Brunei can afford to reform its economy, with China being an important partner in this regard. Fourth, Singapore, unlike other ASEAN members, is a high-income, highly competitive country, one of the world’s financial and technological centers. It is therefore a valuable partner for China in the BRI in this regard and also a source for partnerships with third countries (consultancy for infrastructure).

Chinese school of thought and relational theory

In trying to get closer to the region that concentrates most of the international economic activities and which, through its organizations and the role played by some countries on the regional and international stages has become the core of the contemporary world, we can use the perspective of a newer paradigm in the theory of international relations, namely the Chinese school, with representatives such as Qin Yaqing, Zhao Tingyang and Yan Xuetong, along with other important Chinese theorists.

In the relational theory, Qin emphasizes the following. The relations between the actors participating in international relations are constantly changing and have an ontological significance. In the Confucian doctrine, the middle path (中庸) of moderation and harmony is dominated by three virtues that lead to the stability of social relations: wisdom (zhì 智), kindness (rén 仁) and courage (yǒng 勇). The extremes are not excluded, but are complementary, thus denying the dual structure “or-or”, instead promoting the “and-and” approach.

The way of solving the problems is deeply rooted in the culture of each participant in the social action therefore the relations between the states, as well as the interpersonal relations have a strong cultural load. That is why the role that countries such as China and India are currently playing in international relations is accompanied by new visions of global issues, coming into confluence with the Western thought, which has dominated the world since the great geographical discoveries. However, this should not be a frontal collision, but a confluence.

In this context, a practical example deserves to be mentioned, as it brings to mind the relational theory mentioned above. A key moment marking major changes in international relations was the informal meeting of the US and Chinese Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping in Sunnylands, California, on June 7-8, 2013. On that occasion, China proposed a “new model of major-country relations”, called in the literature also a “model of relations between the great powers”. The features of this model, supported by China at present, are: (1) the absence of conflicts and confrontations, (2) mutual respect and (3) cooperation for the benefit of all. China has repeatedly stressed that: its development is peaceful, it does not intend to take the US position in the world, it is to the advantage of both partners to rely in bilateral cooperation on complementarities and their actions need to lead to increased mutual trust. But neither the US, nor the EU, nor Japan were convinced, their attitude towards China, Russia and India (US and EU, critical of China and Russia, but lenient with India, Japan hostile to China, but open to cooperation with Russia and India) representing one of the major factors shaping the increasingly complex relations in the Indo-Pacific.

The essence of the Indo-Pacific relations in all their complexity is differently understood in the West and the East. In general, the West (in this category including also Japan) tries to impose its own values ​​and rules (of course, not unitarily with all partners, with some being tougher, with others more conciliatory), while the East is more permissive, undemanding, but without sacrificing the national interest.

Conclusions

This article summarizes the essence of relations between states and groups of countries in the Indo-Pacific. The Covid-19 pandemic has only exacerbated existing trends in the region and globally, with escalating protectionism and intensifying tensions.

The most obvious international transformation in the second decade of the 21st century is reflected in China’s new vision of global development and governance, which marks the end of the tāo guāng yǎng huì ( , conceal one’s strengths and bide one’s time) philosophy and propels China into a position of a real key global player. China thus overcomes the already ambitious framework outlined by the institutionalization of the BRICS group in 2009, at the initiative of the Russian Federation, with the undeclared goal (but highlighted in joint statements and documents) of reorganizing the world order for all countries, not just to the advantage of the “Western powers”, thus contributing to the increase of multipolarity.

The Chinese initiative, unexpectedly ambitious, has as its major objectives economic development and accelerated investment (in energy, infrastructure, production capacity, technology, Internet), but also contributes to supporting China’s reform and opening-up process. With an inevitable role in strengthening China’s regional and international position, the BRI has led the established powers to form a common front against it. The harsh criticism from countries such as the United States, Japan, India and Australia (Quad), but also from the institutions of the European Union and some EU Member States were accompanied by the outlining of alternative Silk Roads, such as: Asia-Africa growth corridor, launched by Japan and India (2017), the US vision for the Indo-Pacific (2018), the US-Australia-Japan Trilateral Partnership for the Indo-Pacific Infrastructure Financing (2018) and the EU Strategy for Connecting Europe and Asia (2018). So far, they have not generated far-reaching effects as compared to those associated with China’s New Silk Roads hence the recourse to resounding “labels” in order to denigrate China and the BRI: “debt trap”, “Chinese colonialism” and “yellow peril”.

In contrast, other countries, small or medium-sized powers, such as the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), similar to other emerging and developing economies, are in favor of a balanced attitude. This position is defined in the literature as “hedging”, which includes both confrontation and cooperation with China.

All this reveals the complexity and variable geometry of international relations, in which cooperation and conflict coexist. Thus, realist, neorealist (defensive and offensive) and rational currents still dominate the theory of international relations, and the way China comes to solve global problems, including through Confucian principles, has to wait until it is understood and accepted.

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[1] The present article is a synthesis of the study “Economic Relations of the Great Powers in the Indo-Pacific in the Current Geopolitical Context”, Oehler-Şincai, I.M. (2019) (coordinator), Institute for World Economy, Romanian Academy, November, 211 pages.

[2] Although there are voices indicating a new Cold War, we consider that the current West-East relations have not cooled down at a degree similar to the previous stage, not even if we take into account the background of the US-China trade war and the tensions generated by the current SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. There are trends in this direction, but they still do not justify yet the term „second” Cold War.

[3] International Monerary Fund (2019). World Economic Outlook Database, October.

[4] West and East are defined mainly by values, principles and normes, not necessarily by geographical position.

[5] The White House (2017). National Security Strategy of the United States of America, December.

[6] India has been formally applying for the APEC membership since 1993, but it has been rejected due to its limited participation in the regional economic integration agenda. Subsequently, six other countries were accepted as members of APEC: Mexico and Papua New Guinea in 1993, Chile in 1994, Peru, Russia and Vietnam in 1998. In 1997, a moratorium was imposed on the admission of new members to the organization until 2007, action justified by the need to focus on achieving the Bogor Goals (1994) and the Osaka Agenda for Action (1995) on supporting regional economic integration, by liberalizing trade and investment (Gupta, 2015, Seshadri, 2015). After another three-year extension of the moratorium, it was lifted in 2010, after which India was invited to attend the summits as an observer, until the consensus of all 21 members of the group could be reached for its acceptance as a member.

[7] Please consult: https://www.whitehouse.gov/articles/united-states-strategic-approach-to-the-peoples-republic-of-china/.

[8] The Tokyo International Conference on Africa’s Development (TICAD) was initiated in 1993 by the Government of Japan to promote Africa’s development, peace and security.

[9] China and India, until the 18th century. Under the impact of a composite of exogenous and endogenous determinants, both were set aside.

[10] Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Philippines, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

[11] An intergovernmental organization consisting of 54 states (mostly former territories of the British Empire), which continues its activity, among the member states being: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Brunei, Pakistan and South Africa.

[12] The European Union, as a group of countries, is the first or second major trading partner and investor for many countries in the region.

[13] Lillehaugen, M. (2018). The ‘Free and Open’ Indo-Pacific: A Call for European Partnership, Asia Dialogue, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, June 22.

[14] Hungary, the first country which signed such a memorandum in 2015, followed by Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Slovakia in the same year, Latvia in 2016, Croatia and Estonia in 2017, Greece, Malta and Portugal in 2018 and Luxembourg and Italy in 2019. Finland and France each signed with China joint declarations in 2017. https://www.beltroad-initiative.com/memorundum-of-understanding-belt-and-road-initiative/.

[15] https://www.ifri.org/en/publications/publications-ifri/ouvrages-ifri/political-values-europe-china-relations.

 [16] China and 29 other countries were represented at the level of president/prime-minister, the rest of them, including Germany, France and the United Kingdom, at ministerial level.

[17] https://www.cgdev.org/sites/default/files/examining-debt-implications-belt-and-road-initiative-policy-perspective.pdf.