What Overarching Values Do the United States and Europe Share?

Photo: Columbia University European Institute

Photo: Columbia University European Institute

Antonio Tajani, President of the European Parliament, attempted to answer this question when he spoke to Columbia students and faculty at the World Leaders Forum on February 28, 2019. Tajani emphasized the shared goal of freedom and the need to focus on development and education rather than neo-imperialistic motives around the world. Specifically, in response to a question regarding Chinese investment in Africa, he stated that he will be suggesting a 50 billion Euro investment into African innovation and education in the upcoming budget meeting within the European Parliament.

President Tajani expressed concerns about the potential of African exploitation due to neo-imperialistic actions taken by nations such as China under the guise of economic support. The Chinese Belt Road Initiative is a current project that invests in African infrastructure and railroads, thus creating new trade routes between African nations. Since 2006, China has loaned over 132 billion dollars to Africa towards building infrastructure, but their main investments have gone into the service sector. Chinese investment in Africa is seen as a significant example of their efforts to increase global influence and a possible exploitation of African raw materials. While critics worry that China is acting with debt diplomacy, as African nations currently owe 20% of their total debt to China, General Secretary Xi Jinping has denied such allegations and stated that the Belt Road Initiative is a mutually beneficial project, which raises the question of how the increasing global Chinese presence affects Western power and ideology.

As a communist country with a socialist market economy (SME), China has a very different ideology compared to those of liberal capitalist democracies in Europe and America. The West fears that successful investments in Africa will increase Chinese influence and further its political ideology.  Increased influence in Africa has and will continue to contribute to China’s global “soft-power,” or the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without physical force or coercion. While the West continues to hold significant “hard-power” across the globe as a result of the superiority of the European and American militaries, increased influence in Africa could allow China to rival the US in “soft-power,” further escalating the power struggle between the countries. The United States also holds significant “soft-power,” with American companies and culture represented internationally as a result of globalization and the rise of mass media. However, Africa is a gravely underprivileged continent with great potential due to its raw materials and large population. Therefore, the “soft-power” that China could acquire through an alliance with African nations would threaten the dominance of America and Europe. Through such an alliance, China’s opposing ideology would prove successful on a global scale.

Furthermore, the increasing success of the Chinese government continues to threaten existing Western forms of democracy. In recent years, China has been seen on the world stage as a thriving economy with continually expanding GDP and innovation, while the United States and European countries have dealt with political instability and divisive changes in government. The alliance of China with Africa, and the success of Chinese investments in supporting African progress and development, would prove the viability of an ideology very different from the liberal capitalist democratic order that currently exists in the West. In the latter half of the 20th century, the United States and Europe went to great lengths to preserve Western ideology and defend it against the communism and socialism espoused by countries such as China. The current rise in Chinese power threatens to upset this legacy.

However, it is also important to note that African countries are willingly allying themselves with China and accepting their loans, suggesting that even African leaders might think the benefits outweigh the future costs of accepting Chinese support. While China is currently the single largest lending nation to the African continent, European and American investments into African infrastructure would halt the possible exploitation of African nations as well as balance the shift in global power. President Tajani’s plan of investing 50 billion euros towards African infrastructure is a necessary starting point for Europe and America to support African development and build alliances with previously exploited and colonized nations. Through such alliances, Europe and America will have increased control over the spread of political ideology and the progression of Chinese influence which will be necessary for maintaining global dominance.

Ayse Yucesan