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  • Mike Lyons

THE EURASIAN SUPER CONTINENT - A NEW WORLD FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Updated: Mar 11, 2020


Introduction

Infrastructure transformed the United States, firstly into a supercontinent and then, into a global power[1]. In 1869, the Transcontinental Railway linked America’s east and west coasts reducing overland travel from six months to 2 weeks. The Panama Canal connected the Atlantic and Pacific oceans cutting almost 8000 miles off the distance between New York and San Francisco. America celebrated a new era of global influence. Infrastructure made this possible.

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013, is the 21st Century equivalent of America’s 19th century projects. The BRI involves land and maritime infrastructure including ports, superhighways, high-speed rail, and gas and oil pipelines linking the nations of Eurasia, and Africa. Not only will the BRI intensify the reconnection of Eurasia but it will be the catalyst for an explosively growing and influential Eurasian Super Continent.

Eurasia

Eurasia is the world’s largest continent, occupying more than one third of the Earth’s land area. It is home to three of the five most populace nations. It holds almost two thirds of the world’s oil and more than 80% of its gas reserves. China, with the largest population on earth, lies at the economic heart of Eurasia, bordering on 14 countries in Central Asia. With the BRI program, China has moved to consolidate Eurasia.

Major historical events have contributed to Eurasian interdependence. These include China’s modernisation program (commencing 1978); the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991; the Global Financial Crisis of 2008; the 2013 Ukraine crisis; and the launch in 2013 of the BRI. As the nations of Eurasia cohere, their collaboration will accelerate the global Crossover Point where Asia, linked to Europe takes central prominence in world affairs. The deepening consolidation of Eurasia enhances the geopolitical influence of China, Russia, Germany and France. Turkey, encouraged by increasingly strained relations with the West is building closer ties with Russia and China.

The nations of Eurasia have been historically estranged, mutually suspicious and economically stagnant. However economic forces were unleashed with China’s modernisation. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the former USSR Central Asian member states developing political and economic interdependence with China. The Ukrainian crisis deepened ties between Russia and China. Transportation and distribution have become quicker and cheaper, shortening the connection between Northeast Asia and Europe. New financial institutions including the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the Silk Road Fund have provided additional capital to fund the estimated $26 trillion of infrastructural investment for the period to 2030.

South East Asia

Bilateral trade between China and ASEAN grew by 640% during the first decade of the 21st-century. Almost all South East Asian nations have joined the BRI program, as have most European states. In February 2020, the Philippine President, Rodrigo Duterte ended his country’s century-old alliance with the US and gave notice that Philippines would abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement, a security pact allowing for US to station troops on Philippine soil[2].

China-Russia

Since the late 1990s, Sino-Russian trade relations have expanded and deepened. Russia is a major energy supplier while China is the world’s greatest importer of oil and gas. With Russia’s increased estrangement from the West, (including the expansion of NATO) and a shared interest with China in undermining US unipolar hegemony, Russia has much to gain in Asia. In 2004, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov claimed that a fateful error was made by “our Western partners” when they decided to expand NATO eastward, rather than using a unique opportunity to create a new international system. Instead, Russia has become a central plank in China’s military expansion. In 2011, Vladimir Putin announced the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) to serve as a bridge between Europe and the Asia Pacific region. The EEU aims to advance Russia’s role as a stakeholder in reshaping the global order.

As the Trump administration appears indifferent to the fate of the international order, other “great powers” are working to expand their influence, with new relationships emerging. No relationship can be more consequential than the growing bromance between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin with its potential historical significance. Australia may have to come to terms with an increasingly authoritarian, even anti-democratic Asian region on which its future prosperity and security depends[3].

In a perceptive observation during the Trump 2016 election campaign, Gideon Rachman wrote[4] “An America that steps back from its global commitments, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership - - - would further erode the post-Cold War international order. That, in turn, would almost certainly encourage both China and Russia to seek to fill any vacuum left by the US power”. And so, it has!

Europe-China

As transatlantic tensions have risen during the Trump years, numerous and efficient transit routes have created the opportunity for deepening Sino-European relations. The EU needs to have a Eurasian perspective[5]. Europe can no longer keep itself immune from Asian influences. The great foreign-policy question of our time is about the way in which Europe and Asia will connect. At Davos, Switzerland in January 2020, German Chancellor, Angela Merkel signalled that the European Union may diverge from its NATO ally, the US, in its approach to the rise of China. She anticipated an EU-China leaders’ summit in September 2020 as part of a bid to increase European influence and to have the continent “speak with a stronger and clearer voice”[6].

The annual Cooperation meeting between China and Central and Eastern European Countries (known as 17+1 comprising 12 EU member states and 5 aspiring members) is currently scheduled for mid-April 2020. President Xi Jinping is expected to host the meeting, which was hosted in previous years by Chinese Premier, Li, demonstrating Beijing’s increased efforts to upgrade its engagement with Europe. This is in addition to the EU-China Summit scheduled for late March 2020[7].

The Caspian Sea

The Caspian Sea lies at the heart of Eurasia, at the crossroads of different civilisations, surrounded by Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Russia and Iran. This region is rich in oil and gas reserves and of great interest to Europe and China. The Central Asian republics have transformed from being Soviet castaways to becoming Silk Road passageways. The BRI provides new crossroads for Eurasia. China is the biggest investor in Kazakhstan’s railways and pipelines, Uzbekistan’s energy and transport infrastructure, Turkmenistan’s gas fields, Kyrgyzstan’s mineral sector and the Tajikistan’s hydropower plants[8].

Kazakhstan is a keystone component of China’s BRI plan. It has embraced Chinese efforts to establish Kazakhstan as a regional transit hub. A cargo train plies back and forth along the 11,000 km railway corridor connecting Chongqin in China’s Sichuan province, via Xinjiang in China’s west, and Kazakhstan, and on to Russia, Belarus, Poland and finally Western Germany, all in only 13 days. At Khorgos in Kazakhstan, on the border with China is the International Centre for Border Cooperation. This is a duty-free shopping zone, a vast multi-storey shopping mall with over 2000 shops where people come from all over Central Asia to take advantage of unlimited China bargains[9].

A New World Order

The political and economic context has shifted dramatically. China, India and East Asia, together with Europe comprise a vast portion of the global economy. The US has withdrawn from the TPP and has engaged, increasingly in a trade war with China, as well as the deployment of sanctions and embargoes against other nations. An increasingly interactive Eurasian continent has emerged, with the birth of new institutions such as the AIIB, the New Development Bank and the Silk Road Fund. A new dynamic, interactive Eurasian Continentalism has emerged since the GFC, accelerated by technological advances. These transformations represent a quantum leap in the dawning of a new, multipolar era which will significantly reconfigure the role of the US, China and other major powers.

A major reason for Asia’s extraordinary success in recent decades is its increasing interconnectedness with the rest of the world. The BRI stretches from the Atlantic to the South Pacific with stations in Africa and in the Arctic. Macaes argues that the new centre of gravity in world politics is neither the Pacific nor the Atlantic but rather, Eurasia.

The BRI is a historical game changer, evolving towards the configuration of an economically interlinked group of Eurasian land powers from Shanghai to Germany, profiting from the technological know-how of Germany and China, and the enormous energy resources of Russia. The way for Germany to consolidate its role as a global export powerhouse is to become a close business partner of Eurasia. Moscow and Beijing recognise the need for a concerted block: BRI, Eurasia Economic Union, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, BRICS+ and the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. What the New Silk Roads are proposing is a wide-ranging, economic, interlinked integration from East Asia, through Central Asia, to Iran, Iraq and Syria, all the way to the Eastern Mediterranean[10].

Retired US Army Col, Lawrence Wilkerson (Colin Powell’s chief of staff 2001-2005) cuts to the chase: “America exists today to make war. How else do we interpret 19 straight years of war and no end in sight? …… We are going to lie, cheat and steal to do whatever it is we have to do to continue this war complex. That’s the truth of it. And that’s the agony of it.” For the US, it is an existential battle against the whole Eurasia integration process[11].

Challenges

However, significant challenges remain. Membership of the EU requires adherence to democratic principles and the rejection of authoritarianism. Russia does not meet this requirement. China is a one-party authoritarian state with a command economy. India, although a democracy is increasingly authoritarian, as is Turkey. These and other countries are major players in this emerging Super Continent. Nevertheless, despite different political ideologies, the Eurasian Super Continent has emerged, not according to a Western model, but rather as the stage for different and conflicting political ideas.

[1] Super Continent (The Logic of Eurasian Integration), Kent Calder, published 2019

[2] Asia Times 12 Feb 2020

[3] Mark Beeson – The Axis of Authoritarianism: China, Russia and the new Geopolitics 2019

[4] Easternisation (Concluding Chapter) by Gideon Rachman, published 2017

[5] The Dawn of Eurasia, by Bruno Macaes, published 2018

[6] Australian Financial Review 24 Jan 2020

[7] South China Morning Post 13 Jan 2020

[8] Parag Khanna, The Future is Asian published 2019

[9] New Silk Roads in action at China-Kazakh border, Asia Times, 3 Dec 2019

[10] Escobar (foreign correspondent and author)– Why the New Silk Roads are a threat to US- Asia Times, 24 Jan 2020

[11] Battle of the Ages to Stop Eurasian Integration, Escobar, Global Research, 17 Jan 2020


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