Georgia & the Rise of Digital Geopolitics


The world order is fast-evolving as the competition between the US and rising China threatens the very structure the post-Cold War period was based on.

There has been much discussion on how the rise of China will influence the Eurasian continent. Several scenarios for Eurasia 2050 exist nowadays. One of the thought trends argues that China will become a dominant force in Eurasia, almost entirely replacing the US power in military as well as economic spheres. Though radical, many tend to regard the scenario as a viable possibility. Some even think that there might follow dramatic steps in the decoupling of trade between the US and China. Though painful, in the end both Beijing and Washington might actually choose a certain level of decoupling as a sure way to be less dependent on, i.e. less vulnerable to, each other’s trade policies.

Another scenario is less radical, seeing China by 2050 becoming powerful, but not as much as would be necessary to dominate the world economically and militarily. I would follow this line of thinking, as it is important to put aside all those extreme geopolitical scenarios about a swift change in the global balance of power. A middle scenario is more probable, which would argue for the world balance of power being subdivided among the US, China and several other regional powers across Eurasia. These might compete but at times also cooperate with each other.

Whether readers agree or disagree with the proposed scenarios, there is one sphere, the digital (technological) realm, where both Beijing and Washington have already started pursuing different scenarios in a clear decoupling of spheres. Over the past several years, competition in the technological sphere has become an integral part of the US-China relations. The US, which through its digital companies has enjoyed a leading role in the world by the number of people and states cooperating closely with Washington, feels how similar are measures taken by China in recent times.

This competition from the Chinese involves winning masses to sovereign digital platforms such as e-mail, social networking, specific encryption technologies, etc. through Huawei, WeChat and others. Certain spheres of influence are already emerging where China’s neighbors are more likely to fall in line with Beijing’s technological standards. This also involves a purposeful policy of exporting Chinese technological novelties (5G internet) abroad. Moreover, the country made several major agreements with its neighbors in Central Asia to build systems of face recognition.

As the case with Chinese company Huawei showed, when the US pressed its allies and partners to abstain from cooperating with Beijing, the 2020s and beyond will see almost every Eurasian state, including Georgia, having to choose between the opposing technological blocs. The decision to fall into either the American or Chinese bloc will in many ways influence Tbilisi’s foreign-policy. Increasingly, partnership with either of the opposing sides will mean what foreign policy a state chooses.

Considering how close the cooperation is between Georgia and the EU and US, the country is more likely to choose the western digital bloc. Choosing the Chinese bloc could complicate Tbilisi’s position as it would almost certainly harm Georgia's cooperation with the European and American security or military agencies.

As the case with Huawei showed, the US will be increasingly more perceptive of China’s digital growth in the coming years. Keeping its allies and partners across the globe within its technological sphere would mean choosing its foreign policy agenda. Closer to China, further from the US/EU, and vice versa.

By Emil Avdaliani

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02 April 2020 19:32