China’s growing assertiveness represents both a challenge and an opportunity for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and its 57 participating States.
Engaging constructively with China in areas of common interest, such as fighting corruption, managing environmental challenges, and improving economic cooperation could boost the post-pandemic recovery of countries across Europe and Asia by strengthening the resilience of economies, societies, and institutions, according to a new.
Since its inception in late 2013, China’s Belt and Road Initiative has grown into a sweeping global trade and infrastructure development project with increasing geopolitical and geo-economic implications.
A new report by the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions , funded by the German Federal Foreign Office, recommends that the OSCE, under the leadership of its Secretary General Helga Schmid, identify opportunities for closer co-operation with China.
Stefan Wolff , Professor of International Security at the University of Birmingham and principal author of the report, commented: “China is pouring trillions of dollars into the creation of economic corridors stretching across Central Asia to Europe and connecting China to the Middle East, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia; linking up rail and road networks with ports; as well as modernizing power plants and pipelines.
“The OSCE and its participating States can no longer afford to ignore the significance of China and its increasing presence and activities within the OSCE region. Whether and how they will rise to the challenge of responding to China’s activities will have a profound impact on the OSCE’s future relevance.’
China’s massive investment changes the social and political landscape in the countries concerned and brings environmental, as well as military implications. These have been analysed for a variety of individual countries and international organisations - yet, to date, no assessment has been made of the challenges and opportunities for OSCE States.
More than half the 57 OSCE States have now signed Memoranda of Understanding with China on participation in the Belt and Road Initiative. By late 2020, almost $94 billion of Chinese funds have been made available in three OSCE sub-regions: Central Asia, the South Caucasus and Eastern Europe, and the Western Balkans.
“Institutionalising the relationship between the OSCE and China will be important since China is currently neither a participating State nor a Partner for Cooperation,’ added Professor Wolff. “The OSCE should be guided by a strategic vision that considers a future formal relationship with China as a Partner for Cooperation or China could be granted OSCE observer status.’
The report argues that the OSCE should work on a ’connectivity 2.0 agenda’ to improve and sustain the compatibility and complementarity of the existing integration projects of the European Union, the Eurasian Economic Union and the Belt and Road Initiative.
OSCE States, OSCE Partners for Cooperation, and high-level OSCE officials received the report and its recommendations at a virtual launch earlier this month. Sixty-eight participants exchanged views on how best to address the challenges and opportunities of a rising China in the OSCE context.
“There is currently little room for dialogue with China on human rights issues, but a principled, pragmatic, and strategic OSCE approach to engagement with China will neither exclude human and minority rights issues nor allow a weakening of the human dimension within the OSCE’s comprehensive and cooperative approach to security,’ added Professor Wolff.