The Belt and Sino-European Relations

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In the previous post, Silk Road- Alternative Governance, we stated that “some experts claim there is a deeper and more competitive objective of modern ‘Silk Road’. They claim that the initiative is a Chinese grand strategy towards Europe, Asia, and Africa…”

The Silk Road Initiative (The Belt) is a currently vague but evolving, long-term vision of China for Eurasian infrastructural improvement, connectivity, and enlarged economic integration. China recognized the gap of critical infrastructure in much of Eurasia, which cannot be filled even with current multilateral development funds. With the Belt, China wants to fill the gap, and indeed received a huge interest throughout many countries of Eurasia.

According to its official description, the Belt seems to be an altruistic offer, based on the principles of reciprocal and mutually beneficial agreement. It consists of no a priori constraints on potential members and provides an extensive flexibility. Such favors depict the project as a preeminent model of bilateral and multilateral economic cooperation in Eurasia. Not to be deluded by the abstract offers, a number of stakeholders are doubtful about the feasibility of the Belt, chiefly on the security ground. Moreover, some experts are suspicious of the geopolitical underpinnings, namely that the initiative might be a geopolitical game of China to expand its strategic political and economic influence.

It’s clear, though, that the Belt is driven by a number of motivations. Few of them are extending China’s domestic economic security by expanding globally, mitigating security threats, and garnering strategic space. China wants to achieve these goals through development and economic cooperation. Indeed, the Belt may become one of the linchpins of economic growth and integration on Eurasian continent, even though it still has very ambiguous definition, targets, and offers.

China and EU bond

Inexorably, the Belt sways the EU security interests in both the global and regional levels. Potential interconnectivity established by the Belt provides th EU impetus to think more strategically and move beyond its immediate neihbourhood. The initial step is to develop EU strategic vision for security and stability within whoel Euasia, and find roles and rules for the actors.

The Sino-European relations has changed over the last years in a volatile wave. China expanded its interest into new areas within EU. Northern geographic space, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) through creation of 16+1, Southern region occasions create a huge opportunity for China to play a leading role in this integration framework.  EU faces more proactive China on the diplomatic arena, both bilaterally and multilaterally, and in fact it is increasingly designed in Beijing.  The initiatives such as ‘Silk Road’, ‘China Dream’, and even Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is highly related to the Belt, have encountered a profound lobbying and communication to EU’s regional, local, and private players. 

China’s methodology for Europe

China, in general, pursues a flexible approach to European markets, trying to adjust towards the common interests in the domestic and regional context. It goes through upgrading and labelling of bilateral relations by highlighting the historical and cultural bonds that exist between different EU countries and China, as well as helping those countries to increase their prominence in the region.

The actions of Chinese government show that they give a strategic importance to Europe and is investing huge amounts of money to establish and to maintain the relations. COSCO and other Chinese port companies have invested (or have expressed an interest in doing so) in seaports in Belgium, the Netherlands, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Latvia and Lithuania. Hereby, it can be argued that China puts different levels of attention to different countries. Especially, China targets two regions to promote the Belt: CCE and the European Mediterranean countries. Nevertheless, other countries are not entirely neglected. Beyond the important role of regional approach, countries can be categorized into three factors:

  1. Whether a country hosts ‘Silk Road projects’
  2. Whether China considers the country as a direct Silk Road outreach;
  3. Whether a country is a potential receptive to China’s Silk Road Initiative.
Source: ETNC Report

 

Implications

While the impact of Silk Road Initiative is vague and volatile across EU states, the project gradually gets solid ground, with clear geo-economic and geo-political effects. One of the reasons of a slow improvement is that EU has not yet decided on the framework of this partnership. Though most of the countries have had bilateral talks with China, the wait-and-see attitude prevails for now. However, new transport corridors, strategic acquisitions of ports and terminals are emerging and being used with an increasing frequency.

In a global context, Sino-European relations have progressed a lot, specifically after the declining U.S. strategy. This opportunity is very significant for China, as well as for EU. European states would then decrease the extreme reliance on U.S. terms, and diversify the economic and security strategies. Moreover, long-term desire of expanding their impact onto Central Asia countries might be also realized by joining the Silk Road project as a significant player.

 

Also Read: 

This is one of the article of the “Silk Road” series originally posted on Foreign Policy Magazine. In next articles we will talk about the challenges of the initiative, the countries included, and so on. Follow us on Facebook for more!

Sources:

  • Ghiasyi, R., & Zhou, J. (2017). The Silk Road Economic Belt: Considering security implications and EU–China cooperation prospects | SIPRISipri.org. Retrieved 9 February 2018, from https://www.sipri.org/publications/2017/other-publications/silk-road-economic-belt
  • One Belt, One Road (OBOR): China’s regional integration initiative – Think Tank. (2016). Europarl.europa.eu. Retrieved 9 February 2018, from http://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document.html?reference=EPRS_BRI(2016)586608
  • Maçães, B. (2016). China’s Belt and Road: Destination EuropeCarnegie Europe. Retrieved 9 February 2018, from http://carnegieeurope.eu/2016/11/09/china-s-belt-and-road-destination-europe-pub-65075
  • Mapping Europe-China Relations: A Bottom-up Approach. (2016). Ifri.org. Retrieved 9 February 2018, from https://www.ifri.org/en/debates/mapping-europe-china-relations-bottom-approach
  • van der Putten, F. (2017). Europe and China’s New Silk Roads | ClingendaelClingendael.org. Retrieved 9 February 2018, from https://www.clingendael.org/publication/europe-and-chinas-new-silk-roads

 

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