The crystallisation of a diffuse concept: Eurasia.
Some authors say that we are witnessing the effective birth of Eurasia. The catalyst has been above China’s westward opening: China has begun to occupy its backside – Central Asia – creating new land routes to Europe. The distances between the margins of Eurasia have also been shrinking.
The map presented below has the effect of first raising a single continent, from Shanghai to Paris or Madrid – it looks like a large metropolis with its public transport system. The trade war between Beijing and Washington and the insecurity of US support – not to say abandonment of its dear European «allies» once it no longer needs them – bring the interests between Europe and China closer.
Historically, the division between Europe and Asia has not been a clear-cut idea but has been related to the thinking at each particular moment in history, mainly European. The two concepts are nothing more than historical products created in ancient Greece, rethought during the Enlightenment, and prevailing in Europe throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries.
This thinking saw scientific progress and its application to all spheres of social and individual life. A few decades later, this scientific progress materialised in technologies that made it possible to overcome Eurasia militarily, divided, and colonised by the major Western powers.
China looks again at the world through Eurasia.
China is already living a Eurasian age», says Maçães in his book «The Dawn of Asia«. Moreover, «it is not that such connections exist between the continents, but that, for the first time, they work both ways. Only when the influence flows in both directions can we speak of an integrated space». The updating of the historic Silk Road through the One Belt, One Road (一带一路) or Belt-Road Initiative (BRI), especially its overland route, shows that China no longer looks only to the Pacific, but is contemplating new ways to Europe.
Thus, in this new mental map of the continuous territory, the global axis shifts to Central Asia (land centre) and the Indian Ocean (maritime centre). It is no longer in the Mediterranean, nor the Atlantic, as when the United States took over Europe as the standard-bearer of the West, nor in the Pacific, where it had moved with the emerging East Asian phenomenon. The Asia-Pacific’s future relevance seems to be giving way to the Indo-Pacific, where China is certainly not losing prominence but is more subject to the Eurasian balance of power.
It reinforces China´s presence in Central Asia, but, at the same time, strengthens India, it’s strategic «enemy» whose population will surpass China’s by 2022 – although India does not yet seem to believe it is a world power and continues to look askance at US support. An example of this attitude is its participation in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (commonly called QUAD) formed by the US, India, Japan, and Australia. China sees, not without good reason, as a tool to contain China.
East-Asia and Western Europe move closer.
If the BRI has Central Asia as its geopolitical pivot, China needs a clear grip on Xinjiang, its westernmost province, and the gateway to the Central Asian republics. And its opponents may try to destabilize this region as we have recently seen. The land route to Europe cannot exist without the Xinjiang segment, where Horgos, the gateway to Kazakhstan and Europe, is located.
The Yiwu-Madrid railway, the longest in the world to date, necessarily passes through Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is so important that, as Bruno MaÇaes points out, «if Russia were to try to reintegrate Kazakhstan into its sphere of influence, as vehemently as it has done with Ukraine, China would not stand aside.»
The East Coast (European peninsula) and the West Coast (Pacific rim) are coming closer together, and the connections between the two improve logistical conditions in the interior of the supercontinent. This is precisely one of the objectives of the Silk Belt and Road Initiative. As Chinese companies have moved away from coastal business hubs to lower labour costs, they are moving further away from ports. They, therefore, need better land connections, thus contributing to the «shrinking» of Eurasia (Emili J. Blasco).
Eurasia shrinks, the West disappears.
The idea of a shrinking Eurasia, which puts Europe and the East on the same plane in our minds, results from the revival of the Silk Road, with its historical reminiscences. It takes us back to a world where America was yet to be «discovered» when nothing existed beyond the surrounding oceans. As Europe disappears, Eurasia coalesces into a fluid, global unit of trade and conflict. Bruno Maçães argues that, in contrast to the mainstream talk of the Asian (21st) Century, «this century will not be Asian,» nor will it be European or American.
If people stopped talking about Europe at the end of the First World War to talk about the West, now Europe – increasingly distant from the United States – will become part of something bigger: Eurasia. Authors such as Robert Kaplan (The Return of Marco Polo’s World) predict a dissolution of Europe for two reasons. The first one is internal: Europe’s weakness due to European Union’s disunity. The second one is external: the disinterest of the United States, since that country’s priority «is not to guarantee the global pre-eminence of Western civilisation, but to continue as the only global superpower.»
Expanding on the domestic weakness, there are two recent examples: Firstly, their is an internal disunity within the European Union – the most glaring example of which is that the EU has its «common» Indo-Pacific policy while four of its most relevant members have their own and not necessarily aligned policy -. Secondly, Europe has numerous regions that aspire to greater independence or at least greater autonomy. The fact that a part (Flanders) of a member state (Belgium) could stop a trade agreement between Canada and the EU gives an idea of the magnitude of the problem.
Europe, Quo Vadis?
Europe has been hit by one crisis after another since the outbreak of the global financial crisis almost a decade ago.
There has been a debt crisis, an economic crisis, a failed Arab Spring, a conflict in Ukraine, a migration and refugee crisis, a wave of populism and refugees, a wave of populism and nationalism sweeping across much of Europe, and the Brexit crisis (and COVID-19 after the report was published). And all these facts have reduced Europe’s good image, in Asian countries in particular.
Maçães argues that if Europe, particularly the European Union, does not want to be left behind, more attention needs to be paid to investing in more robust relations with Asian countries. Maçães urges Europe to adopt a Eurasian perspective, for three reasons: Russia and China have one; Most of the significant foreign policy issues of our time have to do with how Europe and Asia are connected (Ukraine, refugee crisis, energy, and trade); and all the security threats of the coming decades will play out in a Eurasian context. Maçães adds a final reason why Europe should become more actively involved in the Eurasian integration project: it is the way to combat the disintegration forces within Europe.
Europe needs a journey to the East
According to the three authors mentioned above, the consequences of the birth of Eurasia would include: Firstly, the growing irrelevance of the European Union – losing attractiveness as a political and even economic project due to its problems of internal convergence -. Secondly, the reality of Eurasia would reduce it to a peninsula on the margins of the supercontinent (we would once again become Finis Terrae -the end of the earth-, as the Romans called the west coast of Spain).
The European Union has opposed Turkey’s entry into the European Union for decades. Curiously, it is now Turkey that has less interest in the European Union membership. In a Eurasian context, they have a better position on the chessboard – leaving aside historical, philosophical lucubrations as to whether it was Europe or not…
Therefore, it would be in the EU’s best interest to simultaneously upgrade its relations with Central Asian states that form the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and with the Eurasian Economic Commission, to secure broader connectivity across Eurasia develops on international standards…