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International Shipping
Why Europe is wary of Belt and Road Initiative
Date:2018-04-28 Readers:

Despite assurances, nations have taken a cautious approach to China's ambitious trade and infrastructure projects

Perhaps the best word to describe Europe's attitude toward the potential benefits of China's project to revive the ancient Silk Road is "cautious".

A recent report by 27 of the 28 European Union ambassadors stationed in Beijing, and leaked to the German business newspaper Handelsblatt, included a familiar complaint that the Belt and Road Initiative is at odds with Europe's trade agenda and favors subsidized Chinese companies.

President Xi Jinping addressed such criticism from Western governments when he told an Asian forum in Hainan in April: "The Belt and Road Initiative is not a Chinese plot, as some people internationally have said."

It was a response to those such as French President Emmanuel Macron, who said during a visit in January that China and Europe should work together on the Belt and Road but that the project must not be "one-way" in China's favor.

European reservations, expressed most strongly among the richer states north of the Mediterranean, reflect the concerns of countries that want ever-greater access to the Chinese market but who nevertheless worry about increased Chinese competition.

In response to the allegation that Belt and Road deals will largely favor Chinese companies, Beijing has sought to reassure its European partners that projects along the trade routes will be open to investment from all.

One area in which European caution is most apparent is the Maritime Silk Road concept that seeks to boost a "blue" economy based on the sea lanes that connect China with the rest of Asia, Africa, the Mediterranean and finally the major ports of Northern Europe.

The governments of France, the UK and Germany are among those that have resisted China's encouragement to formally sign up to its maritime initiative.

Among Europe's worries is that China may soon catch up with, and eventually overtake it, in scientific and technological developments linked to the blue economy.

While acknowledging these reservations, a recent paper by a leading European think tank has warned that Europe could be missing out by adopting a negative stance to China's maritime plans.

In a policy brief published in April by the European Council on Foreign Relations, its authors suggest that Europe should look and learn from China's blue economy, already worth a tenth of the country's GDP, as an engine of growth and wealth.

"Europe should emulate China's strong and well-funded policies on developing shipbuilding, deep-sea exploration, offshore oil and gas exploration and exploitation, shipping, and on the availability of Chinese corporations and policy banks in supporting infrastructure projects worldwide," the paper proposed.

It said that, on balance, the Maritime Silk Road creates more competition in Europe-China relations, "but it also creates space for cooperation in the blue economy and for specific maritime security missions".

While reflecting European concerns about greater competition, it said of the prospects of enhanced cooperation: "These opportunities should not be missed."

The paper, entitled "Blue China: Navigating the Martime Silk Road to Europe", also proposed that, aside from emulating China's blue economy, European governments should encourage innovators in their own countries to respond to well-funded Chinese industrial and research and development policies.

The paper acknowledged that creating the conditions for continuous growth in EU-China maritime trade was in the interests of Europe and that Chinese investment in port infrastructure along the route could reduce the cost of trade for all parties.

It nevertheless reflected the concerns expressed by some European governments that Chinese companies might be in a position to set prices and dictate the terms of economic exchanges to trade partners.

The analysis concludes that, when it comes to the Maritime Silk Road, Europe will increasingly need to consider its approach to China as a matter of grand strategy, and not as a collection of specific policy responses around competition and cooperation with Beijing.

http://africa.chinadaily.com.cn/weekly/2018-05/04/content_36138319.htm

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