Belt and Road Initiative: a windfall for Europe?

belt and road initiative chinese economy international trade
Numéro 1

Learn the ropes

What is the Belt and Road Initiative?
The Belt and Road Initiative is a major investment program started in 2013 by Xi Jinping. Since then, more than $1,000 billion were invested in different projects. It is also called the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

In practice, these investments are used to build millions of kilometers of rails, roads, bridges and harbors for merchandises. In other words, it is a large network which links China with its business and trade partners.

The main trade routes will lead to Europe and Africa. They will cross Eastern China, Central Asia and Europe. Also, the word ‘road’ refers to sea routes, as the program concerns also routes from the Indian Ocean, crossing the Red Sea and going to the Mediterranean Sea.

Source: France Culture

What are the goals of this program?
The first goal of this project is to lead to new market opportunities for Chinese economy by developing safe and fast trade routes for transiting goods and raw materials.

Also, the goal is to open up China (especially the Eastern part of the country) and to create a new role in the international economic governance, which might result in a direct competition between China and the United States, and so disrupt the world geopolitics.

Source: France Info

Why do we talk about it today?
For the last few months, the EU has appeared very divided on this subject. Several Member States from Eastern and Southern Europe accepted to participate in this project (for example, Greece and Italy). On the opposite side, France and Germany call on the EU to defend a common position et to demand more guarantees for economic transparency and respect of international law.

Although Beijing insists on the ‘win-win’ aspect of the program, several examples show the existing risks: indebtedness or secret clauses. The difficulty is to avoid loosing an extraordinary economic opportunity (which is the opening of the Chinese market) without risking an one-sided economic conquest.

Numéro 2

Choose your side

The idea behind the Rift is simple: for each topic of debate, we provide you with an expertise based on a pro-con approach, written by competent and legitimate experts. We want to help you make your own opinion, and guide you on first steps to civic engagement.
What is your opinion before reading the article?


FOR

The Chinese “Belt & Road Initiative” is a significant opportunity for Europe



georges haour belt and road initiative china europe

Georges Haour

Emeritus Prefessor, International Institute for Management Development

www.imd.org



The ambitious “Belt & Road – BRI” initiative launched by China in 2013 benefits first to Chinese state firms. It also offers the possibility to participate in infrastructural projects (roads, rail, harbours, telecom) and services (education, culture, …) to European firms. In this way Switzerland wants to use the BRI in order to help SMEs to benefit more from globalisation. 

The European firms did not wait to trade with China

The initiative represents about €1,000 billion for over 10 years. This offers a valuable increase in business potential for European firms, which of course did not wait for the BRI to start trading with China. Public construction firms, especially the international ones, start to participate in projects which will create new jobs and revenues. Everyday several trains carry Chinese goods to the terminal in Duisbourg, Germany. It is up to the European firms to produce goods and fill the containers for their way back… 

European participation must be lucid, firm and coherent. It must require normal practices used in international contracts and funding, which are recommended by the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris. Firms must insist on contractual terms which would minimise financial and ethical risks. While creating wealth, they must also make sure to contribute to solve the important environmental problems in China and in all 65 involved countries. 

Europe must negotiate with China on equal footing

It is imperative that European countries adopt a common position to avoid a situation when Beijing would divide and conquer. It is not only a business matter. This geopolitical initiative is at the very heart of the Chinese international policy, which follows multiple objectives. 

Europe is the best equipped region in the world to succeed brilliantly in the 21st century. It must use this tool to affirm calmly its values, its remarkable model of society and its geopolitical role. Europe has to negotiate with China without arrogance, on equal footing and in mutual respect – an innovation born post the scandalous opium war in the 19th century… The current field of ruins of the multilateral system offers a chance to rebuild it to these rival-partners. Europe must have leadership, courage and vision, it must be audacious and open on the long-term, like China. This is what we should wish the European nations and the future European Commission. 

AGAINST

Europe cannot ignore China but it must enforce its terms

emmanuel lincot china belt and road initiative

Emmanuel Lincot

Author and Professor, Catholic University of Paris

www.editionsmkf.com/produit/chine-une-nouvelle-puissance-culturelle/



Alliance between technology and speed considerably reduced the distance between China and Europe. 11 hours of flight between Paris and Beijing, it’s the equivalent of a Lille-Marseille trip by car. Anyway, China is de facto our neighbour. But instead of bringing the people closer, this reduced distance and multiplied exchanges provoked tensions or even phenomena of break. To sum up, what connect us can be at the same time a source of acceptance or a source of rejection. China and its project, The Belt and Road Initiative, is a proof of that. 

A thought on what we want to preserve

The most vulnerable countries of the European Union, like the Southern states (Greece, Italy, Portugal) and Eastern countries (Serbia, Hungary) see an opportunity in the BRI, while France and its president Emmanuel Macron demand a real reciprocity. And it’s right: the deficit towards Beijing has only been deepening. Moreover, the very nature of the Chinese political regime is foreign to our democratic culture. 

Repression of Tibetan and Uyghur communities (a million of prisoners in re-education camps for ten million inhabitants in Xinjaing), constant supervision of the territory with help of AI technologies, forced social credit on every Chinese citizen – these acts are incompatible with the values we defend. To refuse cooperation with China and Huawei in the 5G sector is not an anarchist confession, but a thought on who we are, on individual freedom we want to preserve, on protection of our strategic, social and medical data and finally, on the defense of our vital interests. 

The EU can enforce its terms, as long as it’s firm and vigilant

Finally, the Chinese head of state Xi Jinping subordinates the future of the Chinese economy to an international investment project in the infrastructure sector worth several thousands of millions dollars; although the success of this projects depends not only on the ability to pay of the borrowing countries, but also on securitisation of muslim regions already facing a high instability. This bet is extremely hazardous. 

However, the European Union can not ignore China. It is a world leading economy, and in contrast with the ex-Soviet Union, globalisation of economy created an interdependence which would make a open rivalry with China counterproductive, or even disastrous.  It forces the EU in the dialectic where the opponent must cooperate… In this voluntary coercion that the European Union can enforce its terms, as long as it’s firm and vigilant.  

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