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OPINION – EU’s ‘Global Gateway’ and China’s BRI: Rivals or Partners

The Global Gateway is key part of the EU’s strategic vision for countering China and asserting its status as a global actor.

– The author is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government and Public Administration at the University of Macau, Macao SAR, China.


On Dec. 1, 2021, the EU unveiled its “Global Gateway” strategy, an ambitious project formulated with the aim of boosting interregional connectivity. The strategy articulates the EU’s plan for narrowing the global infrastructure gap in five areas: the digital sector, climate and energy, transport, health, and education and research. Due to the ambitious scope of Global Gateway, it is widely perceived as a counterweight or alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Despite being inherently fragmented, the EU is also a geopolitical actor. As the EU markets Global Gateway to its major partners across Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Western Balkans, there is an underlying sense of geopolitical competition, even if EU officials dispute this notion.

The EU’s geopolitical ambitions

The president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, stated explicitly in a speech that the Global Gateway is a “geopolitical project”, “critical tool”, and “different way”. The undertone is clear and straightforward: The EU is not only a normative power but can also act geopolitically, unafraid of engaging in geopolitical competition in addition to exporting its own norms and values. It is widely believed that over the last decade, the EU’s geopolitical standing has been increasingly challenged by China’s, with its assertive BRI, as well as the Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries (China-CEEC). Taking this context into consideration, the Global Gateway is a key part of the EU’s strategic vision for countering China and asserting its status as a global actor. However, what is it about the Global Gateway strategy that could make it attractive enough to compete with existing Chinese connectivity initiatives?

According to the European Commission’s website, the Global Gateway will create sustainable and reliable connections that will help in addressing global challenges, including climate change, public health threats, and supply chain vulnerability. This is distinct from China’s BRI, which has a maximalist focus on large-scale investment in infrastructure like ports, roads, railways, airports, power plants, and telecommunications. The EU’s descriptions of the Global Gateway imply that it will be more sustainable, transparent, secure, and viable than the BRI. It also promises a more robust funding model consisting of a mix of grants, soft loans, and guarantees aimed at pooling private sector investment. In contrast, the BRI exclusively focuses on governmental loans. The Global Gateway has also placed a strong emphasis on expertise, financial assistance, and technical support. Its focus goes well beyond individual infrastructure projects and is designed to be both comprehensive and normative.

The strategy’s slow progress

Regardless of what the Global Gateway currently promises, the EU will face many challenges when it comes to implementing such an ambitious strategy. In order for the EU to market the Global Gateway to partners outside the bloc, it must first push its own member states to align toward a common strategic goal. Almost two years after its inception, the Global Gateway has barely realized any of its expected outcomes. A month ago, at the Global Gateway Forum in Brussels, top EU diplomat Josep Borrell did not present any evidence that the Global Gateway has had any meaningful impact on the EU’s partners. Instead, Borrell repeated the familiar assertions about the ambitious strategy’s potential outcomes and how it will protect the “rules-based multilateral system.” This begs the question of how long it will be until Global Gateway breaks ground on multiple flagship projects and produces tangible results, as has been witnessed with the BRI framework’s Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway, Peljesac Bridge, and Vado Gateway Terminal.

Nonetheless, one eye-catching moment occurred at the G-20 Summit held in India in September 2023, when the India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC) was announced after the signing of a memorandum. However, given the acute geopolitical uncertainties in the concerned regions and the EU’s perennial weakness in being a strategic actor, there is plenty of reason to question IMEC’s prospects for success. Furthermore, the broader Global Gateway largely remains a farsighted ambition that lacks concrete capabilities in the near term. The principles underpinning the Global Gateway reflect the concentrated expression and extension of the EU’s strategic autonomy. However, it remains unclear as to what extent the EU could achieve its intended outcomes through the Global Gateway while also facing the looming perils of geopolitical rivalry.

Partners, not rivals

The EU’s rationale for the Global Gateway strategy is ill-founded if its primary fixation is on supplanting China’s BRI. Underlying the EU’s competitive mentality is a sense of anxiety and insecurity. The EU’s anxiety stems from its declining geopolitical and normative centrality. This anxiety regarding its own international status relative to China is counterintuitive if the EU truly intends to facilitate multilateral cooperation for the sake of confronting global challenges. Instead of countering China, the Global Gateway strategy should be used to contribute to its stated aims of enhancing global connectivity and prosperity. Hence, politicians in Brussels should consider enhancing the Global Gateway by making it compatible with other initiatives, instead of instrumentalizing it in a zero-sum geopolitical rivalry in which many third parties have little interest.

The entire world, not limited just to the Global South, is in desperate need of greater investments in infrastructure and connectivity. Many African, Latin American, Southeast Asian, and Western Balkan countries would be happier to have a variety of choices and alternatives available based on real needs, instead of the mutually exclusive selection between Global Gateway and the BRI. The Global Gateway and BRI have different priorities, respective focuses, and complementary models of financing and funding. However, they share similar aims for improving global prosperity through enhanced connectivity. In that sense, Global Gateway and BRI are potential complements.

Source : Anadolu Agency