Sunday

26th May 2019

Focus

China, Russia and the EU's intermarium bloc

China’s geopolitics of trade passageways, expected to revive the ancient Silk Road arteries across the Eurasian continent, is producing the first collateral effect.

The potential integration of Beijing’s “Belt and Road” initiative with a regional infrastructure scheme in Central and Eastern Europe is contributing to altering the balance of power in Euro-Russian dynamics.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Emergence of China as independent player in region marks pivotal change from 1920s and 1930s (Photo: Bernd Thaller)

Beijing maintains that the Eurasian landmass exists as an “integral whole” and that Central and Eastern Europe play an important role in its strategy to link the Chinese eastern coast and Western Europe through land and sea-based passages.

In line with this vision, on 23 February, during a meeting in Zagreb with Croatian prime minister Tihomir Oreskovic, representatives of the Chinese National Development and Reform Commission stressed that China was interested in connecting the "Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Initiative” and the Belt and Road project.

The Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Initiative was first laid out by Croatian president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic in September 2015. In her view, it should work as a framework for enhanced cooperation in the political, economic and security realms among 12 European Union countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

In particular, this Croatian-sponsored plan of regional integration aims to promote concrete projects on infrastructure development, so as to improve trade connection and energy independence on the eastern flank of both the EU and Nato.

When in October last year Chinese president Xi Jinping held talks with Kitarovic in Beijing, he welcomed the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Initiative, underlining that the development of a north-south corridor in Europe, based on the ports of Adriatic and Baltic nations, was complementary to China’s Silk Road strategy.

Intermarium

Beijing could in fact exploit the favorable position of Adriatic, Baltic and Black Sea ports to link the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road - the overland and sea-going sections of the Belt and Road, respectively - through a longitudinal and intermodal corridor in the heart of Europe.

Kitarovic keeps repeating that its project is not directed against Russia.

Yet, it is doubtful that the Kremlin buys the Croatian president’s reassurances. And it cannot be otherwise, if Moscow looks at Europe’s map.

The Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Initiative has in fact startling similarities with the Intermarium (or “the land between the seas”), an alliance of states from the Baltics to the Black Sea - and potentially down to the Balkans - that in the 1920s and 1930s Polish leader Jozef Pilsudski tried in vain to create to prevent German and Russian expansionism.

Today, Polish president Andrzej Duda has resumed Pilsudski’s geopolitical thinking, overtly endorsing the formation of a modern Intermarium, which in large part coincides with the bloc of states included in the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Initiative.

Russia will inevitably oppose any move that leads to increasing cooperation among the states of Central and Eastern Europe, viewing it as an effort to separate the Russian territory from Western Europe. But, the problem for the Kremlin is that now, unlike in the interwar period, there is China that acts as an independent variable in the eventual creation of an Intermarium grouping.

China’s cooperation with Central and Eastern Europe countries (the so-called China+16) has been underpinned by both its recent accession to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and its push to build synergies between the Belt and Road scheme and the EU $393 billion investment plan.

Particularly, Beijing and Brussels are focusing on improving their infrastructure links through the establishment of a Sino-European connectivity platform.

Baltic region

Ultimately, China and the EU are working to set up corridors between the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), Brussels’ plan to upgrade Europe’s transport system, and the Belt and Road. The Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Initiative should fit into this China-Europe infrastructure mechanism.

On a visit to Latvia on 19 February, Chinese National Development and Reform Commission vice chairman Ning Jizhe voiced his government’s interest in boosting the container train traffic from China to the Baltic region and Northern Europe and investing in both the Rail Baltica project and the port of Latvian capital city Riga.

Rail Baltica is a high speed rail project, under the TEN-T initiative, that will link Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, with an extension into Germany; Riga seaport is instead at the northern end of the proposed Baltic-Adriatic Corridor, yet another TENT-T artery.

Thus, China is betting big on the Baltic ports, as also proved by China Merchants Group’s intention to expand the existing Klaipeda seaport, in Lithuania, and turns it into a new transport and logistics center within the Belt and Road scheme.

Chinese plans to reboot Klaipeda seaport should be viewed in combination with Beijing’s interest in building up the Croatian port of Rijeka, the southernmost tip of the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Initiative, and, more importantly, with the potential connection between the new iron Silk Road and the Baltic coast.

The iron Silk Road is a China-Europe land-sea express line connecting Ukraine’s Black Sea port of Illichivsk with Western China via Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

This Euro-Asian transport passageway has been operational since January and has a considerable strategic relevance, given that it circumvents the Russian territory.

Weakening Russia

Ukraine is currently in talks with Lithuania and Belarus for linking the iron Silk Road and the port of Klaipeda. If the three countries succeed in carrying out their project, Russia will definitely lose its position as a transit space for the Sino-European trade.

China’s drive to integrate the Central and Eastern Europe countries into its Silk Road strategy has the potential to further weaken the grip of Russia on its western neighbourhood.

While there is not much Moscow can do to halt Beijing’s engagement in the European post-Soviet space, its only hope is that historical mistrust among potential participants, combined with harsh competition among them for more Chinese funds and investments, may sink the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Initiative, as well as any other prospective Intermarium-style alliance.

Emanuele Scimia is an independent journalist and foreign policy analyst. His articles have appeared in the South China Morning Post, the Jamestown Foundation's Eurasia Daily Monitor, Deutsche Welle, and The Jerusalem Post, among others

Stakeholder

The South China Sea Arbitration: Illegal, Illegitimate and Invalid

China hopes the EU will respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity and play a constructive role in the resolution of the South China Sea disputes through bilateral negotiations rather than arbitration, says the Chinese Ambassador to the EU.

EU-Russia sanctions helping China to boost exports

Europe is losing out to China on exports to Russia. EU sanctions are one likely reason, but they have had scant political impact because most of the world continues to do business as usual with Moscow.

News in Brief

  1. Former EU climate chief cheered by 40,000 activists in Denmark
  2. UK's May announces June 7 resignation date
  3. Ireland votes for EU election and divorce referendum
  4. Report: May to announce resignation plan on Friday
  5. Leading politicians: time for EU to have female leaders
  6. Poll: Finland's Green party to surge in EU elections
  7. High demand for postal voting in Denmark
  8. Some EU citizens turned away at UK polling stations

Stakeholder

An open China brings opportunities to Europe

Some 60 years ago, the first major World Fair after World War II was held in Brussels. Sixty years on, China International Import Expo (CIIE), the first world expo dedicated to expanding imports, will open in Shanghai, China.

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Turnout up in Slovakia, with pro-EU liberals scoring high
  2. Belgium votes in hybrid EU-national election
  3. Irish greens take Dublin in second EU exit poll
  4. EU election results to trigger top jobs scramble This WEEK
  5. Don't tell the Dutch - but Timmermans 'won'
  6. EU says goodbye to May with 'respect'
  7. Strache scandal: how big a hit will Austrian far-right take?
  8. Italy train row exposes competing views of EU

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  2. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us