Europe offers Central Asia new connectivity options that counter China's Belt and Road Initiative


On September 15, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had announced EU's new connectivity strategy called Global Gateway which many believe would take head-on China's massive Belt and Road Initiative or the BRI (Map courtesy: Google)

The European Union (EU) and Central Asian countries are working together to intensify cooperation in the area of regional connectivity with the EU giving a glimpse of its upcoming strategy on Global Gateway partnerships at the EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting held in Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe on Monday.

The Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan along with the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell - currently also the Vice-President of the European Commission - and Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen took part in the meeting.
As the ministers stressed the need to intensify cooperation on sustainable connectivity between the EU and Central Asia in the areas of trade, transport, energy, digital and people-to-people contacts, Uzbekistan proposed to host in 2022 an EU-Central Asia Ministerial High-Level Conference on connectivity.

This would follow Tashkent's successful hosting of international conference on regional connectivity in July, earlier this year where India's External Affairs minister S Jaishankar had highlighted New Delhi's efforts on having an inter-connected Eurasia through the development of Chabahar port in Iran and also enhancing connectivity with the landlocked region via the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).

The growing importance of connectivity for the Central Asian countries will be discussed extensively when Turkmenistan hosts the 15th Summit of Heads of States of the Economic Cooperation Organisation on November 28. Ashgabat will also be hosting the Ministerial Transport Conference for Land-locked Developing Countries titled 'Ashgabat Process – Financing for Better Connectivity' in April 2022.

Also Read: India's message to Asia - Unite against terrorism, reject connectivity projects that serve 'another agenda'

It was in 2019 that the EU had adopted a new 'Strategy on Central Asia' (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan), which highlighted the growing strategic relevance of the region for European countries.

The EU says that it has significant stakes in Central Asia, given the strategic geographical location and pivotal role of the region in Europe-Asia connectivity, its vast energy resources, significant market potential, and its own interest in regional security and migration, in particular in the light of developments in Afghanistan.


The EU-Central Asia Ministerial meeting in progress at Tajikistan's capital Dushanbe on Monday (Image courtesy: Twitter/@JosepBorrellF)

During the ministerial meeting in Dushanbe on Monday, the EU informed its priorities for regional cooperation, in line with the 2019 EU Strategy on Central Asia: promoting resilience, prosperity and regional cooperation.

"The countries of Central Asia have made remarkable achievements since their independence 30 years ago. The EU has high stakes in seeing Central Asia develop as a more resilient, prosperous and more closely interconnected economic and political space. The EU and Central Asia share a strong commitment to intensify cooperation to build back better following Covid-19," said Borrell during the meeting.

"We also want to step up joint efforts to manage some of the common challenges stemming from the situation in Afghanistan. The EU can make a strong contribution to the future of the region if Central Asian states show determination in their commitment to reform and democracy," he added.

Global Gateway initiative

On September 15, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had announced EU's new connectivity strategy called Global Gateway which many believe would take head-on China's massive Belt and Road Initiative or the BRI.

"We will build Global Gateway partnerships with countries around the world. We want investments in quality infrastructure, connecting goods, people and services around the world. We will take a values-based approach, offering transparency and good governance to our partners. We want to create links and not dependencies," said Leyen.

Highlighting the new underwater fibre optic cable which has connected Brazil to Portugal, von der Leyen said that the EU will invest with Africa to create a market for green hydrogen that connects the two shores of the Mediterranean.

Global Gateway

Also Read: India proposes a giant transport corridor in Central Asia that excludes China and Pakistan

"We need a Team Europe approach to make Global Gateway happen. We will connect institutions and investment, banks and the business community. And we will make this a priority for regional summits – starting with the next EU-Africa Summit in February," she remarked.

The Global Gateway initiative was a hot topic at COP26 in Glasgow as well earlier this month when the United States and the European Commission co-hosted a side event on addressing climate change through infrastructure investment.

Von der Leyen said that it will be global in scale - from Africa to Latin America to the Indo-Pacific - and articulates a positive vision of cooperation in the 21st century.

It also got a massive thumbs up from the US President Joe Biden.

"The Build Back Better Initiative, the Clean Green Initiative of Great Britain, the Global Gateway and Clean Green initiatives are all part of a joint effort among the G-7 partners to deliver high-quality, sustainable infrastructure," Biden said in Glasgow. 

Also Read: India and Iran agree on 'accelerating' work to make Chabahar port fully operational