The magnetic force field pulling more EU countries to link up with the emerging Eurasian economic colossus is growing by the day as the economies of the EU sink deeper into debt, depression and economic stagnation. The latest intriguing development is the formal agreement of the Hungarian government to become a part of the routes of the China New Silk Road Economic Belt, a network of high-speed railway lines along the historical medieval silk road across Eurasia to Europe.
On June 9 during a meeting with Hungarian president, Viktor Orban, China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work out the details of incorporating Hungary into China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road. It is now very clear that the project is a well-planned geopolitical and economic strategy of China to outflank the US Naval encirclement of China, President Obama’s infamous “Asia Pivot” by firming land routes across Eurasia and thereby creating the world’s largest integrated market.
Hungary’s Orban, a President who is on the “bad guys” list of both Washington and of Brussels for his independent economic initiatives and his overtures to Russia and now China, has become the first EU country to join the China Silk Road. At the recent St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, Russia formally agreed to join the Silk Road and link China’s Silk Road rail planning to that of the Eurasian Economic Union consisting of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia and most recently, Kyrgyzstan.
In an EU tour of Germany, France, Belgium and Holland in April 2014 Xi Jinping, China’s President and the architect of the Silk Road project, urged China-EU cooperation in planning the link ups between the Silk Road Eurasian routes and EU countries. Again in December 2014, when Li Keqiang attended the China-Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) Leaders’ Meeting in Serbia in December 2014, he also highlighted the role Europe has to play in the Belt and Road – and the role China can play in completing China’s Silk Road in Europe, not Just Hungary.
The official action plan for the Belt and Road, issued by Chinese government agencies in March 2015, described the Silk Road as “a new Eurasian Land Bridge” that “focuses on bringing together China, Central Asia, Russia, and Europe.” That means the Belt and Road, by China’s own definition, will be incomplete without participation from European countries. And Central and Eastern European countries in particular have a special role to play.
Long-term geopolitical strategy
Following World War II and the defeat of Hitler’s Third Reich, the very word geopolitics became taboo as it was linked in many eyes with Haushofer and the Nazi “Lebensraum.” Geopolitics however, is far larger than that, the study of integrating politics, economics and geography. The father of British geopolitics, Sir Halford Mackinder, first unveiled his concept of that relationship in a seminal address to the Royal Geographic Society in 1904 in London, “The Geographical Pivot of History.” To this day it remains one of the most valued and useful volumes in my library.
It was a brilliant attempt to look at the world as an entirety with what Mackinder termed “natural seats of power.” For him Russia was a mammoth threat to the future of the dominant British Empire because of its vast geography as the world’s largest land power with its vast steppes, its huge natural resources and its people. He wrote, “The oversetting of the balance of power in favour of the pivot state (Russia-w.e.), resulting in its expansion over the marginal lands of Euro-Asia, would permit of the use of vast continental resources for fleet building (navies-w.e.), and the empire of the world would then be in sight. This might happen if Germany were to ally herself with Russia. ”
Preventing that German-Russian cohesion was the focus of British diplomatic machinations from the Russo-Japanese War of 1905 to the secret shaping of a military encirclement of the German Reich with the Triple Entente of Britain, France and Russia that led London to initiate World War I against an encircled Germany, using Germany’s natural ally, Russia to do the dirty deed. Notably, George Friedman, founder of the Texas-based Pentagon and US intelligence consultancy, and an obvious student of Mackinder, said recently in a speech to the Chicago Council on Foreign Affairs, “The primordial interest of the United States, over which for centuries we have fought wars–the First, the Second and Cold Wars–has been the relationship between Germany and Russia, because united there, they’re the only force that could threaten us.”
Translated into 21st Century context, this describes precisely what is emerging from the amateurish military and political and financial provocations of Washington against Russia and China, where Obama’s “Asia Pivot” is a poor attempt to reflect Mackinder today.
Geopolitics, properly understood, also shapes the growing Russian and Chinese response to those deadly provocations. Mackinder wrote with clarity in his 1904 essay, “True that the Trans-Siberian Railway is still a single and precarious line of communication, but the century will not be old before all Asia is covered with Railways. The spaces within the Russian Empire and Mongolia (read Mongolia and China today-w.e.) are so vast, and their potentialities in population, wheat, cotton, fuel and metals so incalculably great, that it is inevitable that a vast economic world, more or less apart, will there develop inaccessible to oceanic commerce.”
He meant inaccessible to the British Royal Navy control of the oceans. Instead British secret diplomacy and two world wars and almost five decades of NATO Cold War delayed that natural fusion of the economies of all Eurasia with rails.
Mackinder’s ideas of geopolitics shaped the Anglo-Saxon world until British financial policies caused her defeat in two world wars to the emerging power of the second land power—North America. Mackinder contributed his last essay in 1943 to the Foreign Affairs journal of the New York Council on Foreign Relations think tank. He shaped the ideology of postwar US military strategy from Henry Kissinger to Zbigniew Brzezinski to Stratfor’s George Friedman.
However, the Chinese high command as well as the Russian also studied Mackinder thoroughly. This is today’s Silk Road, integrating for the first time in history the vast untapped resources of Eurasia.
This is what is now unfolding before our eyes. This is what creates such alarm in Washington, London and Brussels.
Mackinder’s “nightmare” a reality
The Hungarian Silk Road signing is no spontaneous Chinese initiative. It is part of a years’ long strategy of building economic “hubs” or entry points into the larger EU market that began well before the Obama decision to create a new Cold War crisis in Ukraine to sanction Russia. This makes the present developments even more geopolitically significant for the future of the EU. Chinese firms have invested more than 5 billion US dollars in CEE countries in energy, infrastructure and machinery. Next China has contracted to build a high-speed railway connecting Hungary and Serbia and to construct two nuclear reactors at a Romanian nuclear power plant. Chinese investment in Europe doubled from 2013 to 2014 to $18 billion.
Already in 2011 then-Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jaibao made a trip to Hungaqry to meet with President Viktor Orban and sign several billion dollars’ worth of trade deals, indicating China had decided on Hungary as a prime EU trade and economic partner. Orban has been invited to China as early as 2010 and Hungary has allowed Chinese companies to invest in Hungary. One of the largest is the Chinese telecommunications company, Huawei which built a smartphone manufacturing facility in Hungary, the company’s second largest supply center worldwide. Intriguingly, given the present Greek EU crisis, China also happens to own a strategic property in the Greek country. Piraeus—the largest shipping port in Greece– is owned and run by the Chinese company, China Ocean Shipping Co. That port is being used by China to reach Central European and Black Sea markets.
Given that both Beijing and Moscow know that they face the same “geopolitical opponent” as Vladimir Putin put it most recently, namely a USA superpower in terminal decline, the invitation to EU country, Hungary, to join the Silk Road along with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union is a brilliant further development in creation of a multi-polar world to replace a misconceived NATO-Washington Sole Superpower dictatorship. It sets the banquet table, putting irresistible Chinese dishes before the economically struggling EU to “Go East, not West, young man,” to rephrase the famous quote by American publicist Horace Greely in 1865 at the end of America’s Civil War.
The era of the American Century so triumphantly proclaimed by Henry Luce in his famous 1941 Life magazine editorial, looks like it will not make it far beyond its 75th birthday next year. Seen from Budapest and increasingly from Berlin and Paris and Rome, the Eurasian emerging to their east, with the multi-trillion dollar trade potentials around creation of the world’s largest rail infrastructure development is creating the magnet for rescuing the EU from its own hubris and foolishness around creation of the Euro and the stateless European Central Bank. Hungary realized the potential. It will likely be not so long before German industrial circles bring Berlin into that constellation, even if kicking and screaming. The world is simply tired of these endless wars for nothing.
F. William Engdahl is strategic risk consultant and lecturer, he holds a degree in politics from Princeton University and is a best-selling author on oil and geopolitics, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.