Why Europe is engaging emerging powers in Africa and Asia-Pacific
The unity of Western powers since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has surprised many. However, that resolve has been undercut by a broader international nonalignment on this issue, led by emerging markets from India to Brazil.
With the Ukraine conflict now into a third month, Europe has belatedly acknowledged this challenge and is significantly stepping up its engagement across the world to put pressure on Russia. It is Germany, as the host of this year’s G7, that is leading the way.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz is having wide-ranging meetings with key emerging powers, including South Africa, Indonesia (the hosts of this year’s G20) and India. All three have been invited to next month’s G7 leadership summit alongside the club of Western democracies.
With its wooing of world powers, Europe is seeking to address the fact that, of the approximately 120-strong so-called Non-Aligned Movement of states, only one has imposed sanctions against Russia. For many countries in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and South America, such non-alignment has significant appeal, not least given that so many depend heavily on trade, aid, investment and/or weaponry from both Western powers and from China, if not also from Russia.
A good example is India, whose Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Europe this week with key stop-offs in Germany, France and Denmark, where he also engaged the prime ministers of other Nordic nations. Modi has refused to condemn Russia, instead calling again this week for an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine, even as his European hosts hoped that New Delhi would use its influence with Moscow to do more to end the war.
The EU, which is India’s biggest trading partner, sees alignment on Ukraine as one of the key conditions that may be needed to turbocharge ties. And a key prize here for both parties is a potential new trade deal.
The diplomatic tightrope that India is now walking is shown by the fact that in March it abstained in a key UN General Assembly vote condemning Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and calling for an end to hostilities. It continues to use much Russian military hardware.
One measure of success for the EU will be getting more states to condemn Russia and possibly even launch sanctions.
New Delhi has also significantly increased imports of Russian oil since March, with Modi bristling at criticism of the move by saying Europe’s consumption of Russian energy commodities remains far higher. Moreover, with Russia reeling as a result of Western sanctions, some 50 Indian food, ceramics and chemicals exporters will head to Moscow this month.
While non-aligned South American states like Brazil are very important for Europe, it is Asia and Africa that are the two most critical regions that EU states are seeking to reach out to. And in the massive Asia-Pacific geography, one interesting feature of engagement is potential changes in the relative balance of diplomatic prioritization for Europe in the wake of the war in Ukraine.
It was no coincidence last week, for instance, that the destination for Scholz’s first Asian trip was Japan, rather than emerging superpower China, which is Germany’s top trading partner. As Berlin seeks closer ties with countries that share its democratic values, the German chancellor made clear that it is important for all states to reject Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and also any attempts in Asia to move territorial boundaries by force.
Turning to Africa, building support for Europe’s position on Ukraine is also becoming part of the EU’s agenda in the continent of 1.2 billion people. Alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, national leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron are key here.
Europe is already concerned about the influence that Russia and China have in the region. Vladimir Putin in 2019 hosted the first Russia-Africa summit as part of his plan to restore Moscow’s influence in the region, which faded after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Putin is keen to entrench Russia’s foothold in the continent and bilateral trade with Africa has risen significantly.
It is in this context that Africa has become a key EU priority for a range of both political and economic reasons. Building on the so-called pivot to Africa by her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker, which saw a new Africa-Europe alliance created, Von der Leyen is promoting a relationship with the EU as a key counterweight in the continent to world powers such as Russia.
Brussels wants to encourage Africa as a champion of the EU’s rules-based, multilateral approach to world order, including non-territorial aggression in nations such as Ukraine. In the words of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell, what is sought is “a new, integrated strategy for and with Africa” that sees “equal partnership,” rather than the “power politics” offered by some others.
Taken together, this is why Africa and the Asia-Pacific are the two leading emerging market theaters to promote the EU’s economic and geopolitical interests, including the situation in Ukraine. While many states in these regions will remain non-aligned, one measure of success for the EU will be getting more of them to condemn Russia and possibly even launch sanctions against Moscow if the war continues.
- Andrew Hammond is an Associate at LSE IDEAS at the London School of Economics.