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Energy & Economics
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Digital diplomacy: How to unlock the Global Gateway’s potential in Latin America and the Caribbean

by Angel Melguizo , José Ignacio Torreblanca

If the Global Gateway is to compete with the Belt and Road Initiative, it must go big, green, digital, and ethical. And it can prove it in Latin America The European Union launched its Global Gateway initiative in December 2021, but its results have not yet matched the expectations it raised. If it is to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Global Gateway must be bold, green, digital, and ethical. The digital alliance that the EU is setting up in Latin America and the Caribbean provides an opportunity for the EU to put its money where its mouth is. On 14 March, the executive vice-president of the European Commission, Margrethe Vestager, and several ICT ministers from Latin America and the Caribbean established the EU – Latin America and Caribbean (EU-LAC) Digital Alliance – one of the European Commission’s initiatives launched in the framework of the Global Gateway programme. The alliance will focus on three pillars: investments in connectivity, aimed at closing the gap in internet access between the region and the EU, and within and between the countries of the region; cybersecurity, where despite the great progress made by the region, significant gaps remain that threaten citizens, businesses, and sovereign states alike; and digital rights, a field of enormous potential, as both regions share a human-centric approach to digital transformation. The project is of major strategic importance and potential for the EU. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has given new prominence to the EU’s relationship with Latin America and the Caribbean. The region comprises 33 countries which are key to sustaining a rules-based multilateral order and whose votes China and Russia have courted in the United Nations General Assembly. There are also massive investment opportunities in the green and digital sectors in Latin America and the Caribbean, making it an important region in the EU’s search for strategic autonomy. However, relations between the two regions have gone through numerous ups and downs since leaders first spoke of a “strategic association” at an EU-LAC summit in Rio in 1999. In recent years, the EU financial crisis, the United States’ lack of interest in the region, and the covid-19 pandemic have allowed China and, to a lesser extent, Russia to expand their presence in the region: while EU trade with the region doubled between 2008 and 2018, China’s trade multiplied tenfold thanks to its strategic approach through the BRI, which has added to China’s already significant foreign direct investment flows and loans to the region. The EU is seeking to revitalise this relationship. But for the EU-LAC partnership to be successful, it is essential that these political agreements and declarations are accompanied by a meaningful investment agenda and package, as well as a clear roadmap for implementation. So far, the EU’s approach to the region has focused on programmes such as the Bella submarine cable connecting Europe and the region and the Copernicus Earth observation satellite system, which lack the scale to change perceptions of the EU. For its part, the Global Gateway programme is far from mobilising the €300 billion in investments initially announced, and the €3.5 billion  earmarked for investment in Latin America is insufficient to alter the strategic balance in a region where the required investment just for connectivity is estimated at $51 billion. The digital transition that the EU and the countries of the region want to promote could be the catalyst for a change of step in relations The digital transition that the EU and the countries of the region want to promote could be the catalyst for a change of step in relations. But for this to be feasible, certain conditions must be met. Firstly, if the Global Gateway is to be attractive for the region and effectively compete with the BRI, it must rebalance its geographical focus to pay more attention to the region. At present, 60 per cent of projects are focused on sub-Saharan Africa, while only 20 per cent are devoted to Latin America, and another 20 per cent to Asia. It should then focus more efforts on digital initiatives: currently, energy and green transition initiatives make up 80 per cent of projects, while digital initiatives account for 15 per cent and social initiatives for 5 per cent. The projects identified in the digital field are almost exclusively focused on connectivity issues, such as financing fibre, cable, satellite, and 5G investments. Closing connectivity gaps is urgent. Currently, over 35 per cent of Latin Americans still do not have access to a fixed broadband internet connection, and 20 per cent do not have mobile broadband access  – twice the average for OECD countries – concentrated in the lowest income quintile and rural and remote areas. However, the digital agenda in 2023 must be one of transformation, not just connectivity. It should therefore include issues such as cybersecurity, the digitisation of public administrations and services (including health, migration, justice, and taxation), training and education in key skills, the regulation of artificial intelligence, and data governance. Alongside the deployment of 5G and investment in digital, technical, and soft skills, this would bring the financing requirements for the region closer to $300 billion, which is 3 per cent of regional GDP. To address these geographical and thematic imbalances, the region therefore requires a more intensive European investment plan. The Global Gateway envisages mobilising private financial resources by setting up co-financing mechanisms from development banks, in particular the European Investment Bank, the CAF bank, Central American Bank for Economic Integration, and the Inter-American Development Bank. Despite the current meagre projections, it should be possible to mobilise the funding. After all, the EU is the leading foreign direct investor in Latin America, its telecom companies are global players, it plays a pioneering role in digitalisation in banking, insurance, infrastructure, energy, public services, industry, agriculture, and mining, and it holds first-class cybersecurity and hybrid threats capabilities. The launch of the digital alliance is expected to be accompanied by a business meeting of key Euro-Latin American companies, which, if confirmed at high-level, is a promising sign.   The EU’s digital agenda is attractive to third parties compared to China’s BRI because it includes green, social, and ethical components, making it an ally of the green transition, not a competitor. Many of its initiatives contribute to both digital and green goals, including the development of the ‘internet of things’ for the design of smart cities, the use of big data and cloud data to monitor the temperature of the oceans, and artificial intelligence applied to the protection of biodiversity. Europe’s rights-based, human-centric approach to digitalisation should also appeal to Latin America and the Caribbean. The region is seeking to align its approach with that of the EU, with a special focus on social, gender, and territorial inequalities and inclusiveness, which are not Chinese priorities. The cost of these inequalities is huge: achieving full gender parity in Latin America would expand the region’s GDP by $2.6 trillion – the equivalent of Brazil’s economy. Closing the internet access gap and investing in skills will help reduce these inequalities in the region, especially among women and in rural areas, and help younger generations. The Global Gateway has been criticised for over-promising and under-delivering. The EU-LAC Digital Alliance offers an opportunity for the EU to show the worth of the Global Gateway and demonstrate that it can offer an alternative to the Chinese Digital Silk Road.

Energy & Economics
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A Critical Juncture: EU’s Venezuela Policy Following the War in Ukraine

by Anna Ayuso , Tiziano Breda , Elsa Lilja Gunnarsdottir , Marianne Riddervold

The war in Ukraine accelerated a global energy crisis just as the world was beginning to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic. Venezuela has the largest crude oil and the eighth largest gas reserves in the world and can therefore offer an alternative for Europe to replace its fossil fuels imports from Russia. The problem is, of course, that EU–Venezuela relations have been in a sorry state since the EU denounced President Nicolás Maduro’s re-election in 2018 as neither free nor fair. Since then, the EU has adopted targeted sanctions against the Venezuelan government, thus adding to the maximum economic pressure that former US President Donald Trump imposed on Caracas in an attempt to fatally weaken Maduro. This approach has yielded no result in that respect, and the war in Ukraine, and its energy security implications for the EU, creates the occasion for a revision of EU and US strategies. The hope is that a “more carrots, less sticks” approach could convince Maduro to engage in meaningful dialogue with the opposition. The EU must seize this opportunity of rapprochement and readiness and push forward the recommendations put forth in its electoral observation mission’s report of 2021, reconcile internal disputes to focus on the big picture, give momentum to dialogue efforts, consolidate support among regional allies and rekindle its efforts towards humanitarian relief. A failed pressure strategy Venezuela used to be among the most prosperous countries in Latin America, but is now home to one of the largest external displacement crises in the world next to Syria and Ukraine, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. When he came into power in 2013, President Maduro inherited from his predecessor Hugo Chávez a country in economic turmoil, high in debt and on an increasingly authoritarian track. The slump in oil prices in 2014 added fuel to the fire, prompting a wave of unrest to which Maduro responded with repression. He then tried to replace the democratically elected National Assembly, which had an opposition majority, with a loyalist Constituent Assembly in 2017. But it was after the 2018 presidential election, when Maduro secured a second term in what are widely considered rigged elections, that Venezuela descended into a full-blown political crisis. Juan Guaidó, speaker of the National Assembly, used a constitutional clause to declare himself interim president until new elections could be held, backed by more than 60 countries worldwide. In the following years, various negotiations attempts between Maduro and the opposition failed to solve the country’s political dispute, prompting fatigue in the opposition ranks while eventually consolidating Maduro’s authoritarian grip. As the political crisis unfolded, the EU and the United States responded with sanctions against the Maduro regime, although with different goals. The Trump administration pursued regime change through a maximum pressure strategy. Instead, the EU combined targeted restrictive measures with humanitarian aid and support for dialogue and mediation efforts. EU efforts have been hampered by: internal divergences, especially on the recognition of Guaidó as interim president; multipolar competition and the perceived excessive proximity with the United States; and regional fragmentation and polarisation. Sanctions have failed to produce substantial change as Russia and China, and to some degree Iran and Turkey, have continued trade (including in oil) and strengthened economic ties with the Maduro regime How has the EU mitigated constraining factors on its policy? There have been two issues over which the EU struggled, even failed, to reach consensus. The first was the recognition of Guaidó as interim president. While most member states eventually did so, Italy and Cyprus dragged their feet, until the issue became irrelevant in early 2021 when the term of the National Assembly of which Guaidó was speaker expired. EU divergences stemmed from the political composition of member state governments and their view of the EU’s role in the world. Left-leaning governments in the EU tended to frame the recognition of Guaidó as a US-led, “interventionist” initiative, while right-leaning governments advocated a confrontational approach to Maduro, including through the recognition of Guaidó. It was a missed opportunity to show EU unity and put the spotlight on the EU’s difficulty to reach agreement over its foreign policy. Second, internal disagreements within EU institutions and member states revolved around the opportunity to send an electoral observation mission to local and regional elections in November 2021, out of fear that this could whitewash the Maduro regime. The mission eventually garnered enough support to be deployed and was later largely perceived as a success by EU member states. The EU electoral observation mission (EOM) produced a report with recommendations that have become the benchmark for the conditions for a free and fair election in the agenda of the Mexico-based talks between the government and the opposition. The region’s fragmented and polarised approach to the Venezuelan crisis has been another factor hampering EU efforts. Trump’s push for regime change, embraced by most Latin American countries led by right-wing governments in 2019–20 (crystallised by the creation of the so-called Lima Group) exacerbated geopolitical tensions in the region. The EU-backed creation of the International Contact Group (ICG) in 2019, which aimed to promote dialogue but did not bear fruit because it coincided with the recognition of Guaidó and the EU's rapprochement with the Lima Group. Regional polarisation was epitomised by the appointment of a Guaidó representative in the Organization of American States, despite Maduro’s decision to withdraw from the pan-American body, and the prolonged stalemate in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean states (CELAC). The EU was dragged into a polarisation spiral where its policies were associated with those of the Trump administration, even though they had different objectives. Besides, Trump’s policy of maximum pressure as an instrument for democratisation proven ineffective in a context of geopolitical competition with China and Russia. Their support for the Maduro regime allowed it to survive, even though at the cost of the country’s descent into economic disaster. Russia in particular also invested political capital by participating in the Mexico talks as the government’s accompanying country. A changed scenario, a new strategy? President Biden’s election and Latin America’s shift towards the left created openings for a more constructive international engagement with Venezuela, which have further widened after the outbreak of the Ukraine war, providing the EU with a new set of foreign policy options. The EU and the US, together with Canada and the United Kingdom, have signalled a willingness to agree to conditional sanctions relief. The Biden administration has permitted American oil company Chevron to resume limited oil operations in Venezuela in exchange for an agreement by Maduro and the opposition to continue dialogue after a year of stalemate. The talks have made no progress other than an agreement to turn up to 3 billion US dollars of frozen government fund into aid to be distributed by the UN and the International Red Cross to alleviate the domestic humanitarian predicament. Although a more concessions-based foreign policy towards Venezuela may not lead to the regime change some have hoped for, it could still make Maduro willing to allow for fairly free and democratic elections in 2024, when his second term comes to an end. However, it is clear that the humanitarian crisis will not be over shortly, and the implementation of the 2022 agreement between government and opposition is proceeding slowly. Increased EU humanitarian aid could help promote goodwill in Venezuela and in the region, and thus is not solely to be considered an altruistic gift, but an important part of the EU’s foreign policy arsenal. Finally, Venezuela and the broader region of Latin America and the Caribbean is not only important due to its natural resources, but an important political partner for the EU in its bid to defend a rule-based global order. This has become ever more evident since the war on Ukraine, which has seen some Latin American countries refusing to pick sides. Over the last few years the political landscape in Latin America changed with the election of leftist presidents in almost all countries in the region, with interest in seeking a negotiated response to the crisis in Venezuela. The International Conference on Venezuela convened by Colombian President Gustavo Petro in Bogotá in April 2023 is an illustration of the region’s renewed engagement on the issue. The upcoming EU–CELAC summit in July, the first in eight years, is an opportunity to engage with regional partners to foster political cooperation on global and regional issues, including Venezuela. The EU’s pragmatic rapprochement with Venezuela offers the prospect for some progress in the negotiations between government and opposition, but it should not be perceived as a relegation of EU’s commitment to democratic norms. The EU should not waste the opportunity to step up its diplomatic engagement with the region and coordination with the US and like-minded countries to ensure that Maduro concedes a real level playing field for the 2024 elections while at the same time pursuing its strategic goal of diversifying energy supplies. This article is brief published under JOINT, a project which has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 959143.

Energy & Economics
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A north-south lifeline: What Macron hopes to accomplish with the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact

by Dr. Célia Belin , Lauriane Devoize

France is looking to give political impetus to reform of the global financial architecture. Others should swing in behind its gambit  Almost 500 days into the war in Ukraine, Europeans and Americans are anxious about their relationship with the global south. While the transatlantic allies are united, they have been left perplexed by the often tepid reaction of third countries to Russia’s aggression. And the gap between north and south appears only to be growing. The global crises of the last five years – covid-19, Russia’s war on Ukraine, inflation, climate change – have pushed Europeans’ focus inward, while these challenges have plunged much of the developing world into economic decline alongside exacerbating energy and food insecurity. Worse, some of the solutions put in place to overcome these crises – border closures, sanctions, re-shoring – have had major negative impacts on the global south. Meanwhile, the multilateral system has spiralled further into crisis, accelerated by the effects of the US-China rivalry, and has failed to provide relief to developing and vulnerable countries. More deeply affected by this ‘polycrisis’ than the global north, they have much less resource to tackle its consequences: dozens of low-income and medium-income countries now face crippling debt. To start to address these problems, President Emmanuel Macron is holding an ambitious event that seeks to focus political attention on the injustices and inequities of the current global financial architecture. Hurriedly decided on after last year’s COP27 in Egypt, his Summit for a New Global Financing Pact will bring leaders, civil society advocates, private actors, and international financial institutions together in Paris. The gathering’s goal is to find ways to build a more inclusive and equitable financial system, one that enables the climate transition and promotes biodiversity without jeopardising development. From its colonial and post-colonial history, and with its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, France maintains many close relationships on other continents. In response to brewing discontent and despair, Macron has stressed the need to address global south grievances, using frequent speeches to do so, whether in New York, Washington, or Bratislava. He is now once again engaged in an ambitious yet hasty endeavour: inspired by COP21 in Paris in 2015, the president believes diplomatic elbow grease goes a long way in mobilising around global issues, and he has made good use of it. As early in his first presidency as 2018, he launched the Paris Peace Forum, an annual event bringing together leaders and civil society to work towards a revived and innovative multilateral order. After President Donald Trump rescinded the Paris Agreement on climate change, Macron launched summit after summit on aspects of the issue (One Planet, One Ocean, and One Forest). To tackle the impact of covid-19 on Africa, in May 2021 France hosted the summit on the financing of African economies. This time, the goal is to reinvent the global financial architecture. Ever since the paradigm shift brought about by the pandemic, Macron has argued for a new approach – a “Paris consensus,” in a reference to the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change – to replace the market-orientated Washington consensus with net zero, sustainable economic development goals. In his view, the metrics used in the past are “not valid any more to fight against poverty, for the decarbonisation of our economy, and for biodiversity”. He is therefore pushing to reform the global architecture to incentivise net zero investments for a sustainable future. Macron’s idea behind the new summit is to give a political boost to an issue all too often discussed only on a technical level, and in silos. No one expects an actual “pact” to be signed, but France – along with the summit’s steering committee, which is composed of states and international organisations – is aiming for a political declaration that would muster firm commitments from world leaders, and force consequences down the line. And world leaders are indeed showing up: the secretary general of the United Nations, the new president of the World Bank, the president of the European Commission, the US Treasury secretary, the president of Brazil, the German chancellor, and the Chinese prime minister are all expected to attend, along with 40 heads of state, one-third of whom will be from Africa. As so often before, Macron hopes to be transformational in record time. The summit planning started with high ambitions, but sources say it has had to adapt due to a lack of time and focus. Initially launched around the Bridgetown initiative of Barbados prime minister Mia Mottley, France had aimed to include topics other than climate, such as health and poverty, and sought a G20 presidency endorsement by India. Unfortunately, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi will be in Washington during the summit and, despite the fact that India is co-chairing the summit’s steering committee and the expected presence of Lula and Li Qiang, the event may not in the end be a show of force for the global south. NGOs have been privately critical of the lack of inclusivity and transparency of the working groups, and disillusionment is running high. Some concrete results could still emerge from the four working groups, if negotiations are successful. Among the ambitions floated are debt suspension clauses for natural disasters, reallocation of special drawing rights, scaling up private capital flows through improved de-risking instruments, freeing up more concessional resources from multilateral development banks, and new international taxes (such as a levy on maritime transport). In an increasingly fragmented world, a united political declaration in support of these changes at the conclusion of the summit would be a win for everyone. However, a more modest but attainable goal from the summit would be the emergence of a “coalition of ambition,” in which a number of committed countries, or “champions,” take on specific challenges and sustain the diplomatic effort beyond the summit in Paris. Many other opportunities to build on momentum created in Paris will shortly follow: the African Climate Action Summit, the SDG summit, the New Delhi G20 Leaders Summit, and COP28 in Dubai. Since this summit has no mandate, it can only be a success if it is able to agree actions that then endure. For global south countries, the gathering should in turn create opportunities to strengthen support for their demands in all these upcoming forums. The success of the Paris summit will also depend on the capacity of states and other major players to take on the challenge – including Europeans. Germany is backing France in this effort, but most Europeans have yet to show their commitment to the process. Thirteen world leaders have penned a declaration of good will in an op-ed ahead of the summit, although without offering specific pledges or a timeframe for results. Unfortunately, the American president will not attend the summit, nor will the Italian, Canadian, or British prime ministers. The choice to stay away may stem from irritation at yet another grandiose French summit. But rich industrialised countries have no excuse for lacking interest in the dire situation of developing and vulnerable countries. It also puts responsibility on France to continue to move the ball forward after the summit – and not be content with the impression that it tried. Even if France may indulge in summit-mania, and however imperfect the event will inevitably turn out to be, Europeans and Americans must realise that France’s solo act is worth supporting. With clear steps taken by France ahead of the summit, such as the reallocation of 30 per cent of its special drawing rights (about €7.8 billion), Macron is defending his concept of an effective multilateralism in action, one that delivers. With Russia seeking to peel global south states away from the West, Europeans and the United States need to take up concrete actions that correct the imbalances of the current system and offer developing countries greater voice and power. By finally accepting that the institutions set up after the second world war must change, they would enhance their own credibility among global south states while escaping multilateralism limbo. The only way to salvage international cooperation – and to push back against the narrative of an inevitable north-south polarisation – is to demonstrate that it bears fruit for all.

Diplomacy
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The World is Changing: Who Will Set the Rules?

by Filippo Fasulo

Pivot to Asia - The Global South is on the march in their attempt to reshape the international system. How will this new order impact the old world? An increasing number of countries from the Global South, especially in Asia, are pushing to redefine the current global order. Three key trends to watch in this attempt to reshape the international system are the (potential) creation of a new economic order, the expansion of the BRICS grouping, and the transformation of China-Russia relationship after the invasion of Ukraine. In this changing international balance, Europe is losing its influence in the Global South, including in Asia. After centuries of global predominance, Europe’s strongest legacy is its role as a major normative power in global affairs. However, this reputation as a rule-setting power is set to change.   Why it matters 1. A (new) economic order. The debate over a “new Washington Consensus” has gained momentum after US national security advisor Jake Sullivan delivered a speech at the Brookings Institution on April 27th. The final communiqué by the G7 countries which met in Hirosahima on May 19-20 is the result of a similar strategic shift within the group, one that implies a move from economic interdependence to economic security. This shift is coupled with a major change in how the G7 intends to deal with emerging economies, such as their rival China and other partners in Asia that might soon become economic competitors in critical technologies. The G7’s sentiment has moved from promoting globalization and open markets to building industrial capacity in critical sectors, while securing existing and creating new strategic supply chains. Europe’s efforts in this context might not be enough: the investments envisaged so far are too little to reverse Europe’s dependency (often on China) in critical sectors. The EU must focus increasingly on diversifying its supply chains through securing access to rising economies in the Indo-Pacific. Here, joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) could represent an opportunity.  2. BRICS+? The BRICS foreign ministers’ summit in June was yet another steppingstone toward enlargement. The countries that expressed a significant interest in joining the grouping are Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Comoros, Gabon, and Kazakhstan: all these countries sent their representatives to Cape Town. Egypt, Argentina, Bangladesh, Guinea-Bissau and Indonesia participated virtually. While the membership process might be a long one, the group’s upcoming expansion highlights the Global South’s political will to rise its voice, with a plethora of actors eager and able to leverage the new competition between powers which is shaping up after the Ukraine war. In this framework, Asian countries such as China and India are competing with one another to lead the BRICS.   3. China and the Stans. On May 19, Xi Jinping met in Xi’an with the (leaders of) the five Central Asian “Stan”-countries (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan). Russia, the region’s traditional kingmaker, was noticeably absent. The meeting kickstarted – for the first time offline – a summit named C+5 and highlighted Beijing’s belief that it can now make deals within the region without Moscow’s supervision. China’s newfound independence in Central Asia and Moscow’s growing dependence on Beijing after the war in Ukraine provides new insights the on China-Russia relationship: although the two countries are united by their common desire to contest the US-led world order, the Sino-Russian relation seems increasingly tilted in China’s favor. This instable relationship could result in a stronger Chinese presence in Central Asia.  4. Loss of strategic centrality. Europe does not only risk becoming increasingly peripheral in world affairs, but also losing its bargaining power with the emerging Indo-Pacific economies. On the one hand, the EU needs to diversify its supply chains away from China and likely towards the ASEAN; on the other, the Global South – and by default its Asian members – is more aware of the current strategic window of opportunity to redesign the global balance of power.   Our take We are witnessing rapid changes in the international arena. In the coming months there will be increasing requests to review global norms. Therefore, the leading event will be the upcoming BRICS Summit in August: the meeting will probably certify the process to accept new members. Among the countries that are voicing their desire to reset the rules, some are considered by the West (mainly) as rivals, such as China, and as partners, like India. Therefore, Washington and Brussels cannot simply accept or dismiss their requests. Asia is claiming its century: the integration of this claim for a renewed global order into the current world order has just started. Its most important implications will be on the economic side, namely the redistribution of industrial capacity and trade relation in the context of de-risking from China.  Spotlight: G7  The G7 Hiroshima Summit has sent some clear messages to the rest of the world. The decision to invite President Zelensky to the gathering was a move meant to reinforce the unity of the members regarding the Ukraine invasion in the face of Russia — and China, too. The West has criticized China’s 12-point position paper on the Ukraine war, since it does not call for Russia to abandon occupied territories. The G7 countries have also announced a strengthening of the sanctions, seeking to curb products that could be used by the Russian military. The other important takeaway of the G7 is the joint statement directed at China, which includes a strong criticism of Beijing’s “economic coercion” and invites the PRC to play according to international rules. The G7 have also reiterated their position on divisive topics such as security in the Indo-Pacific and Taiwan, retreating their commitment to preserve peace and stability in the region. Despite the joint statement and the declarations by the leaders on the challenges posed by China, the G7’s stance on Beijing is still a balancing act. While concerned about being overly vulnerable with China, G7 economies and their industrial base remain strongly interconnected with the Asian country and despite calls for “de-risking”, such as cutting China out from some sectors like raw materials, it is impossible at the time.  Experts’ views The implications of China’s activism among the BRICS countries  The next BRICS Summit will take place at a critical juncture for the Global South. Russia is still at war, Brazil has a new administration eager to flex its muscles globally, and China has reached unprecedented influence across the developing world. Since they are all connected by the same desire of multipolarity away from US and Western hegemony, it is likely that the BRICS will try to offer a roadmap towards a new international order. This roadmap, however, is far from consensual: will Russia embrace the peace dialogues offered by Brazil or African nations – and what role will China play in brokering any such proposal? Will China and the other BRICS be able to cooperate economically to promote development worldwide? Are the BRICS ready for its first enlargement, and who is most likely to join in the coming years? This arrangement will require some mutual concessions and the outcome will help shape the future world order.  Guilherme Casarões, Fundação Getulio Vargas  The push to strengthen and even expand the BRICS, especially by China, should be viewed more broadly through the lens of a pragmatic Chinese foreign policy. It has not only sought to strengthen ties within BRICS but with other regions and countries who are instrumental for its trade and infrastructure connectivity imperatives.  This happens against the backdrop of a shift towards a multipolar world order with China as a rising power and rising geo-political tensions. Given that this bloc advocates for issues that are relevant to the Global South (global governance reform, support for a rules-based international order and multilateralism in times when countries retreat to unilateral measures), it is no surprise that other countries in the South wish to join. Regarding this summit, I see no major implications for the bloc, the core business of the BRICS will continue with South Africa advancing its five priority areas. However, we can anticipate a discussion on its formal expansion. Trading with local currency seems to have found new impetus following the sanctions placed on Russia. All this notwithstanding, it is important to note that the ‘de-dollarisation’ in trade debate is not a new concept for BRICS and its less about challenging the dollar but strengthening other currencies against external economic shocks. The real test is for the host country depending on whether President Putin attends the heads of state summit in August, given Pretoria’s obligations under the Rome Statute and domestic law.  Luanda Mpungose, South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA)  China’s push for a stronger BRICS on the global stage is advancing along a number of trajectories. Firstly, there is the BRICS expansion as well as the BRICS+ format that are likely to bring the majority of the Global South into BRICS-related platforms of economic cooperation. The implementation of the BRICS+ format may serve as a precursor for liberalizing trade across the Global South and exploiting the potential for boosting South-South trade and investment ties. The expansion in the membership of the Shanghai-based New Development Bank as well as the creation of its regional centers will increase the scope for connectivity projects across the developing world. There is also the greater use of national currencies (most notably the yuan) via de-dollarization as well as the R5 BRICS common currency project that if launched would mark a key transformation of the global financial system.  Yaroslav Lissovolik, BRICS+ Analytics   What and Where Thailand is ready to Move Forward   The May elections in Thailand resulted in a clear victory for the opposition parties. Led by Pita Limjaroenrat, Move Forward has won 152 seats, becoming the most voted party in the elections. This party is the heir to Future Forward, which was dissolved by the military government in February 2020, and was born out of the 2020-2021 protests against the army and the monarchy. The second party in the country is the historic Thai opposition party led by the Shinawatra family, the Pheu Thai. However, while the population has expressed its preference, there is no guarantee yet that Move Forward, and the opposition, will govern. Indeed, to be elected Prime Minister, and form a government, Pita will need to win the majority in the bicameral parliament made up of the elected 500 seats in House of Representatives and the 250 seats of the Senate – whose members are handpicked by the military. The Move Forward coalition with Pheu Thai and the other opposition parties so far can count on little more than 310 votes, a long shot from the majority needed to govern. The opposition must garner support among the senators – which generally have little interest in going against the military that put them in power – or among the parties that have yet to declare their allegiance.  Cambodia: Hun Sen is getting rid of the competition ahead of July elections  On the 14 of May, Cambodia’s opposition party – the Candlelight Party – has been disqualified from running in the upcoming July elections by the country’s election commission. The party has allegedly failed to submit the necessary documentation to participate in the electoral race. With the exclusion of the Candlelight Party from the coming elections, the only possible competitor to the ruling Cambodian People’s party (CPP) of PM Hun Sen – who has been in power for 38 years – has been eliminated. This is not the first time that the main opposition party has been cut out of the electoral race. For instance, in the 2017 the Cambodian court, which is heavily colluded with the CPP, dissolved the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) before the 2018 general elections – a party that was given new life when its members created the Candlelight Party. However, the members of the opposition continue to be persecuted by Hun Sen’s forces with many political exponents arrested on charges of treason, assaulted, or forced to leave the country. With the opposition forces largely depleted and the main party banned from running for elections, Hun Sen is likely guaranteed another term.   The United States seeks to expand influence in the Indo-Pacific  Washington took advantage of two key international events to strengthen its strategic position in the region. During the Quad Leaders’ Summit, which took place on the sidelines of the G7 in Hiroshima, President Biden, Australia’s PM Albanese, PM Kishida of Japan and PM Modi of India stressed their unity and stated their plans to invest in digital infrastructure in the region. Throughout the meeting they did not mention China directly in their statements, but their references to the country were clear. The Quad expressed concern over the militarization of the region and the use of both economic and military coercion to alter the status quo – a clear reference to Chinese activity in the South China Sea. Another important step for the US to consolidate its position in the region is the announcement of the Supply Chain Agreement under the framework of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF). The agreement includes the 14 IPEF partner countries, namely Australia, Brunei, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, the US, and Vietnam. A year following the launch of the IPEF, this agreement is the first practical measure undertaken by the group. The group did not announce any official trade commitments, there is expectation among partners for increased cooperation and monitoring of supply chains fragility. The concrete development is still unclear, but the agreement signals the need for Indo-Pacific countries to avoid supply chain disruption and to minimize their dependence on the region’s main economic player, China.  Semiconductors: China fires back   China has gone on the offensive in competition over the semiconductor sector. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has stated that products by Micron, the US largest memory chip maker, are a “security risk for the information infrastructure supply chain” barring infrastructure operators from buying them. While additional information has yet to be revealed, some negative impacts are expected for Micron even if China and Hong Kong accounted for only 16% of the revenue of the company in 2022. The measure is a retaliation to America’s effort to cut China out from the semiconductor sector and slow the development of its industrial base. Since October 2022, the Biden Administration has imposed strict controls over chips export, followed by the Netherlands and Japan, preventing China from accessing and producing more advanced semiconductors. China’s declaration comes also after the leaders of the G7 grouping released a statement criticizing the country’s economic coercion tactic. After the move from Beijing, Micron fears that their products will be replaced by South Korean competitors, Samsung and SK Hynix, on the Chinese market. In the rising technological row between the US and China, there is also fear that Beijing might choose to put some export controls over other sensitive technologies, such as solar panels – where China dominates the whole supply chain.    TREND: Despite rate hikes, Asian unemployment is faring well (but not for everyone)  In the current context of high inflation and high rates, unemployment has turned out to be one of the main socio-political issues of Asia. With skyrocketing prices hurting businesses and consumers, many central banks in the West have adopted more hawkish monetary policies during the last year. Yet, the soaring cost of money has forced many businesses into a tight spot with concerning consequences on the employment level. Some countries though – like Japan, China, and Indonesia – have made the unorthodox choice to not significantly raise rates during the last year, while others – like South Korea and India – have adopted similar policies to those of the FED and the ECB. However, the results vary. In Japan the unemployment rate has been quite steady at around 2.6% for some time now, but in China the range (5.2-5.7%) was wider, especially due to the uneven nature of the post-Covid economic recovery. Yet, as the economy is slowly returning to normal, Beijing’s unemployment rate is gradually decreasing. Meanwhile Korea has consolidated a positive trend, with the last available figure at 2.5%, but the reforms of the labor market proposed by President Yoon Suk-yeol may cause some issues. The critical indicator though will be youth unemployment. Employment in aging societies, like those of East Asia, will increasingly become a core issue to maintain the viability of existing social welfare programs. So far China has a staggering 20.8% unemployment rate in the 16-24 years old age group which is particularly concerning, as it is the 7.2% recorded in South Korea. Japan is faring quite well but unemployment in the 25-34 years old age bracket has risen since the beginning of the year from 3% to 4%.

Diplomacy
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BRICS and the West: Don’t Believe the Cold War Hype

by Cedric H. de Coning

While it is prudent to be cautious, it may also be wise to explore cooperation in those areas where there are shared interests rather than assume that the BRICS and the West are strategic rivals on all fronts.This analysis was first published in the Global Observatory, 30 August 2023.When Jim O’Neill coined the BRIC acronym in 2001, the point he was trying to convey was that the global economic system needed to incorporate the world’s largest emerging economies. His advice fell on deaf ears and in 2009, Brazil, China, India and Russia decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the BRIC grouping. South Africa joined the group in 2010 to form the BRICS. This July, the group held its 15th summit in South Africa, where they decided to add six new members: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. More are likely to join in the future, including countries like Indonesia and Nigeria. What these countries have in common is a frustration, if not a grievance, about being side-lined to the periphery of the world economy. Together, the BRICS represent approximately 40% of the world’s population. The combined size of their economies are approaching approximately 30% of the world’s GDP, which puts them roughly on par with combined size of the economies of the G7 countries, depending on whether size is measured in GDP or PPP.  More importantly, in the next few decades, the combined size of the BRICS economies will surpass that of the G7. Despite this growing parity, all the members of the BRICS, with the exception of Russia, self-identifies as being part of the Global South, i.e., they feel excluded from a global system dominated by the Global North. Their stated aim is to work towards a future system of global governance where they will have equal political and economic say in global institutions, and where no one state will dominate others. In pursuit of this aim, BRICS countries have established their own development bank, set up their own contingency reserve arrangement, are developing their own payment system, and have started to trade with each other in their own currencies. The BRICS want to free their economies from the dollar-based international financial system. They feel exposed to United States interest rates that can have a negative effect on their economies, for no domestic reasons. The dollar-based financial system also provides the US with significant advantages in the global economy, which the BRICS see as unfair. They also feel a dollar-based financial system gives the US hegemonic influence in global affairs, through for example, exerting US jurisdiction on all dollar-based trade or investments that flow through US banks or financial institutions. While the BRICS countries have these clear shared macro-economic interests, many of the members also have competing interests in other domains. China and India are geopolitical rivals in South Asia. Egypt and Ethiopia are at loggerheads over the Nile. Brazil, India, South Africa and the newly-added Argentina are democracies, while other countries in the group are governed by a diverse set of autocratic regimes, which could set up an irreconcilable clash of values on some issues. Many of the members of the BRICS also have close ties to the United States and Europe, including Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a televised statement to the nation on the eve of hosting the BRICS summit in South Africa, explained that South Africa remains non-aligned, and he announced that in 2023 the country will also host a major United States-Africa trade meeting and an EU-South Africa summit. South Africa will also host the G20 in 2025, the first in Africa. For many countries, membership of the BRICS does thus not necessarily imply aligning themselves with one global alliance versus another, but rather cooperation in a group around a series of shared interests. Where does this place the BRICS on the Russian war in Ukraine? The BRICS summit in Johannesburg steered clear of taking a position on the war, other than welcoming mediation aimed at resolving it through dialogue and diplomacy. Some BRICS members like Iran are clearly supporting Russia, while most others have stopped short of either supporting or condemning Russia. For many such as Egypt, the war has adversely affected their economy. Two of the BRICS members, Egypt and South Africa, are part of an African initiative to seek a mediated end to the conflict, which is perhaps the first African initiative to mediate an international conflict. Overall, however, the BRICS have their eyes on the medium- to long-term transformation of the global macro-economic and financial system, and countries like China are probably frustrated that the Russian war in Ukraine has drawn attention away from this larger objective. Are the BRICS and the West headed for a new cold war? The shift in the center of gravity of the global economy to the East is an unstoppable fact driven by demographics and economic factors like the cost of production. At the same time, Europe and the United States will remain major economic players. In tandem with these changes in the global economy, it is clear that the global political order will become more multipolar, with China, Europe, India, and the United States representing some of the major centers of influence. In an August 27 article, Jim O’Neil argues that the influence of the BRICS will be determined by their effectiveness, not their size. An expanding BRICS will most likely succeed in helping its members to break free from a dollar-based international financial system, but that will take several decades of incremental change before it reaches a tipping point. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on the degree to which your economy is tied to the United States. Many of the BRICS countries, including China, Egypt, India, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa all have economies whose prosperity are closely tied to the Unites States. They will thus have an interest in a slow, stable freeing up of the international financial system, and this should give everyone that is prudent time to adapt. The same logic also applies to changes in global governance architecture. Apart from Russia, all the other BRICS countries have an interest in making sure that changes in the global order are managed at a slow steady pace that does not generate instability. All the BRICS countries, apart from Russia, are also strong supporters of multilateralism, with the United Nations at its center. Many Western countries and BRICS members may thus have more shared interests than the doomsday headlines suggest. While it is prudent to be cautious, it may also be wise to explore cooperation in those areas where there are shared interests rather than assume that the BRICS and the West are strategic rivals on all fronts.