Trade and Globalisation


China's Belt & Road Initiative: nice for China, not for Europe

17 Jul 2017 - 14:53
Source: GovernmentZA/flickr

In this op-ed author Garrie van Pinxteren analyses China's policy in gaining international political support in exchange for economic benefits. You can read the full text here.

When it started to happen in Africa, the West was cynical. China was offering economic benefits to banana republics with corrupt leaders in exchange for their votes in the UN on matters that were important to China. And these countries accepted the Chinese offer. Ha! It showed their economic weakness and their lack of moral spine. Something like that would never happen in our civilized and principled Europe, we thought then.

Now, we have to think again. In June, Greece blocked the EU from speaking out on human rights abuses in China at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva for the first time. Was that because Greece thinks China is doing fine on human rights? Hardly likely. It is because Greece has become increasingly dependent on the economic benefits China has to offer. There are multiple signs of that. In 2016, Greece was one of the countries that prevented the EU form declaring that China should adhere to a ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague regarding China’s activities in the South China Sea. 

We should be really worried that certain EU member states and prospective members are more attracted to China than to the EU and should do well to listen better to the needs of these countries. Where does the EU go wrong? Why is the EU becoming less and less able in convincing its eastern and southern member states of its attractiveness?

This is especially surprising because what China offers the EU should in essence be superfluous. In 2014, the EU has published its own plans for better connecting the north to the south and the east to the west: the trans-European transport network, with funding of around 25 billion euro attached to it. If China wants to be involved in Europe, we should  invite China to participate in these European plans based on European needs and rules instead of jumping on the Chinese bandwagon.

But the only way this can happen is when first of all the EU member states are convinced that these plans are indeed better for them that the Chinese plans and that they take their needs for development into consideration.
If we join in on the Chinese Belt & Road instead, we will lose out in the end. We will be serving Chinese needs rather than European ones. It will corrupt a free and open tendering process within the EU and it will easily lead to politically tainted projects that will never run a profit or might never even get realized. But most importantly: it will lead to more tensions and divisions in an already divided Europe while China’s influence in Europe grows stronger. In exchange for what exactly?

This text was also published by Clingendael Asia Forum on 17 July 2017.
Clingendael Asia Forum is an online platform for commentaries on international relations in, or relating to, Asia.
To contact the editors of CAF please mail Maaike Okano-Heijmans or Frans-Paul van der Putten.