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  • Author: Nicola Bilotta, Alissa Siara
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: One of the key priorities of the new European Commission is to enhance the EU’s geopolitical credentials and “learn to use the language of power”, as stated by the incoming EU High Representative Josep Borrell. The EU’s ambition is two-fold: to increase the Union’s ability to project power and influence at the global level, including through increased integration and coordination among member states, and secondly to enhance the EU’s strategic autonomy from the US in the political, military and economic domains. Both objectives, ambitious in the best of circumstances, are today under severe strain by the COVID-19 crisis. Implications will be long-lasting and multidimensional, and for Europe, its impact will have a direct bearing on its ambition for strategic autonomy, touching each of the three pillars outlined above.
  • Topic: Regional Cooperation, Geopolitics, Economy, Autonomy, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Europe, European Union
  • Author: Jonathan Pryke
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: In an atmosphere of heightened geostrategic competition, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has raised questions about the risk of debt problems in less-developed countries. Such risks are especially worrying for the small and fragile economies of the Pacific. A close look at the evidence suggests that China has not been engaged in debt-trap diplomacy in the Pacific, at least not so far. Nonetheless, if future Chinese lending continues on a business-as-usual basis, serious problems of debt sustainability will arise, and concerns about quality and corruption are valid.There have been recent signs that both China and Pacific Island governments recognize the need for reform. China needs to adopt formal lending rules similar to those of the multilateral development banks, providing more favorable terms to countries at greater risk of debt distress. Alternative approaches might include replacing or partially replacing EXIM loans with the interest-free loans and grants that the Chinese Ministry of Commerce already provides.
  • Topic: Debt, Development, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Bennett Murray
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: As the United States and People’s Republic of China jostle for influence among member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Russian Federation has also declared the bloc a priority. Southeast Asian nations, in turn, would like third powers to counterbalance Beijing and Washington in the region. However, Russia has not made a huge impression in the bloc since its first summit with ASEAN in 2005. Economic success has been mostly limited to bilateral trade centered around arms sales, while security partnerships have not been forthcoming. Part of the problem is that Russia lacks historic ties in its former Cold War rivals, which are also ASEAN’s largest economic powerhouses, to lean on. More crucially, Southeast Asian nations perceive Moscow as deferential to Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions in the region.
  • Topic: International Trade and Finance, Geopolitics, Soft Power, Economic Diplomacy
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Asia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Geoffrey Sloan
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: This essay draws on the author’s previous work, specifically: The Geopolitics of Anglo-Irish Relations in the 20th Century. The greatest failure of the European referendum campaign in 2016, which can be attributed to both sides, was the inability to articulate an understanding of Britain’s geopolitical relationship to Europe. By geopolitics, I do not mean its current usage: interpreted merely as a synonym for international strategic rivalry. I refer, instead, to classical geopolitics, which is a confluence of three subjects: geography, history, and strategy. It draws attention to certain geographical patterns of political history. It fuses spatial relationships and historical causation. It can produce explanations that suggest the contemporary and future political relevance of various geographical configurations.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Geopolitics, Brexit
  • Political Geography: Britain, Europe
  • Author: Tony van der Togt
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Clingendael Netherlands Institute of International Relations
  • Abstract: A global multilateral rules-based order, supported by a pro-active and interventionist United States, is gradually being replaced by a more fragmented world, in which geopolitics and geo-economics are becoming the dominant factors and universal rules, norms, and values are increasingly questioned. For the EU such developments are particularly challenging, as it has long perceived itself as a post-Westphalian soft power, mainly projecting its norms and values in its relations with both its direct neighbors and the world at large. A more isolationist US, a more assertive Russia, and the growing global influence of China have raised questions about the EU’s place and role in the world, which become even more pertinent after Brexit. Therefore, Commission President Von der Leyen intends to lead a “geopolitical Commission” and we are hearing calls for European strategic autonomy or even strategic sovereignty.
  • Topic: International Relations, European Union, Geopolitics, Multilateralism
  • Political Geography: Russia, Europe
  • Author: Fabio Figiaconi
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: In the last decade, the Mekong Region (MR) — that is, the area crossed by the Mekong River and encompassing Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam — has become central to the strategies of major global powers due to a series of economic and geopolitical factors. The most prominent are the region’s growing importance in global trade routes, its geographical proximity to major hotspots (such as the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait) and China’s growing regional activism. The growing importance of the MR in global dynamics spurred several actors to develop specific strategies. While liberal democracies such as the United States (US) and Japan both created regional fora for policy discussions as well as development funds, China increased its presence by offering loans, constructing infrastructures and creating a specific regional institution. Due to the mounting competition, the MR is set to become a major geopolitical hotspot in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Topic: Economics, Geopolitics, Strategic Competition
  • Political Geography: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Indo-Pacific
  • Author: Eleanore Ardemagni
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Differently from neighbouring Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Qatar, the northern emirates of the UAE (Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah) and the Sultanate of Oman form a critical sub-region which has entered globalized modernization at a later stage. In the eyes of the ruling elites, current urban development projects, logistical infrastructures, port expansion and tourism should consolidate economic growth, reduce social inequalities (in the northern emirates of the UAE), and design sustainable post-oil paths (in Oman). Trying to balance continuity and change, the northern emirates of the UAE and Oman are renewing their maritime traditions in the context of state transformations that combine national heritage (as trade culture) and connectivity (infrastructures, urban areas, industrial poles) thanks to national “Visions” and the “project-ization of identities”. In fact, new projects do not only aim at attracting investments and create job opportunities, but also at promoting top-down recalibrated values of the new citizenship which in the eyes of the governments, should be business-oriented and community-serving. Tracing the evolution of the northern Emirati and Omani sub-region, which risks to be affected now by the consequences of the US-Iran escalation, this analysis aims to assess economic transformation trends, emerging security issues and geopolitical implications.
  • Topic: Infrastructure, Geopolitics, Regional Integration, Heritage
  • Political Geography: Iran, Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, United States of America
  • Author: Fabio Figiaconi, Claudia Adele Lodetti
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: According to the latest World Bank’s “Global Economic Prospects” publication, Covid-19 pandemic will have a negative impact on East Asia causing a -1,2% GDP’s reduction in 2020, that is the region’s first recession since 1998’s Asian financial crisis, while China is expected to slow to 1% this year. Among the various consequences that may materialise, the report highlights the disruption of the global and regional value chains. In addition, as stated by UNCTAD World Investment Report 2020 Foreign Direct Investments’ (FDIs) flows are expected to decrease globally by 40% in 2020 and are projected to decrease by a further 5 to 10% in 2021. This scenario would be detrimental for East Asia’s economies and especially for the network of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) located there, which have had and continue to play a fundamental part in the region’s growth. SEZs are intended as delimited areas within a country’s national borders where businesses enjoy a more favourable regulatory and fiscal regime than that of the national territory, with the aim to draw in FDIs, boost exports, increase trade balance and alleviate unemployment.
  • Topic: Economics, Geopolitics, Special Economic Zones
  • Political Geography: Asia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Alessia Melcangi
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: After an uncertain political transition following the 2011 revolts, Egypt seems ready to reshape its geopolitical role in the Mediterranean area and fulfil its geostrategic goals, always maintaining their national security principle to be an essential objective of its domestic and foreign policy. The two main closely and interconnected scenarios, where the country’s strategic ambitions are projected, move from Libya to the contested waters of the Eastern Mediterranean. In particular the latter represents an area that, in recent years, has become a hotspot for the global energy market due to huge gas-field discoveries. It is enough to imagine how the fight for the control of these resources are shaping the region, elevating it to a potential geostrategic game-changer for the coastal countries such as Egypt.
  • Topic: Economics, Natural Resources, Geopolitics, Exports
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Egypt, Mediterranean
  • Author: Ehud Eiran, Aviad Rubin
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Although the Mediterranean was traditionally an afterthought in Israeli geopolitical thinking, the 2000s recorded a shift: Israel is turning to the sea. The Mediterranean is capturing a growing role in Israeli geostrategic thinking. This is in large part the result of the discovery and development of gas in the Mediterranean Sea beginning in the late 1990s. Developed rather quickly, these gas reserves made Israel energy self-sufficient, a significant geo-strategic transformation. Prior to these discoveries, energy was a serious concern. The state had no energy resources, and for decades found it challenging to secure supply in the face of Arab hostility. With the gas discoveries, Israel gained not only energy independence, but also an economic and political tool. Israeli agreements to export gas to Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority gave Israel important leverage. The gas discoveries in the Mediterranean further offered the possibility for export to Europe if indeed Israeli-Greek–Cypriote designs to build an undersea pipe will materialize. The new maritime energy source contributed to the expansion of the Israeli navy. Once a junior player in the Israeli armed forces, in 2013 the navy was entrusted by the government to protect the gas depots, despite the fact that they are held in private hands (including by non-Israeli corporations) and are outside of Israel’s territorial waters. The new task, alongside the expansion of the submarine flotilla (probably as part of a future nuclear deterrent against Iran), awarded the fleet a more important role in Israel’s national security establishment and resource allocation. It also allowed Israel to use the force for international cooperation and military diplomacy in the region. This turn to the sea also contributed to an emerging quasi-alliance with Cyprus and Greece, which includes, among many other areas, the possible joint gas export project, military exercises, and bi-annual trilateral summits between these countries’ leaders. Like its regional allies, Israel is affected by growing Chinese interest in the Mediterranean. Chinese corporations contracted the expansion of Israel’s two largest ports, Ashdod and Haifa. The latter was substantial enough to irk the US, whose navy used the Haifa port in the past for re-supply. Israeli and Chinese actors are in early phases of developing a Chinese funded, or owned, high speed train from Israel’s Red Sea port in Eilat to the Mediterranean port of Ashdod, that will serve as an alternate route for the Suez Canal portion of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Topic: Economics, Energy Policy, Geopolitics, Refugees
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Mediterranean