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03 Mar 2018
China woos Europe through massive investments
Credit : TSO Bureau

"China’s Belt & Road initiative is a strategic project having great significance for China. China’s state-owned companies are turning this idea into reality by acquiring ports from Singapore to the North Sea. Cosco Shipping Ports and China Merchants Port Holdings are taking over cargo terminals in the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Atlantic rim. In the last month, Cosco finalized the takeover of the terminal in Zeebrugge which is Belgium’s second-biggest port. This may serve as China’s stepping stone in northwestern Europe. This development has paved ways for China to buy ports in Spain, Italy and Greece. Neil Davidson, a senior analyst for ports and terminals at Drewry, the maritime consultancy, said, “for somebody like Cosco, the deals make sense financially, and they can make their lords and masters in Beijing happy because it fits the Belt and Road narrative.” He added, “there is a geopolitical underpinning to a lot of this.” The port deals are exhibiting China’s ambitious policies to physically link China to Europe by sea, road, rail, and pipelines. The ports reinforce the maritime half of the Belt and Road Initiative, snaking from the South China Sea across the Indian Ocean, through the Suez Canal and into the soft underbelly of Europe. With China’s growing influence in the region, many European leaders have expressed fears that China’s President Xi Jinping is expanding political influence through its economic expansion. “The fundamental goal seems to be to decrease China’s dependence on foreign elements and increase China’s influence around the world,” said Frans-Paul van der Putten, a China expert at the Netherlands Institute of International Relations. With China’s growing influence in the region, many European leaders have expressed fears that China’s President Xi Jinping is expanding political influence through its economic expansion. Earlier Cosco dropped $1 billion to buy and upgrade the once-sleepy Greek port of Piraeus, for example, Beijing has been able to count on Greek assistance to wreck European Union’s condemnations of China’s behavior on issues including human rights and the South China Sea. Also, China’s state owned companies are moving towards Mediterranean, Central and Eastern Europe with same patterns of investment which have raised eyebrows. Theresa May recently visited China and announced to open the British market to Chinese investors. This shows UK is also keeping an eye on China’s Belt & Road initiative. She also announced that UK has committed to start new trading partnerships with China which will pave way for free-trade talks. China has declared that its B& R initiative is an inclusive project and welcomes all countries of the world to invest in this mega project to get benefits from it. It seems that after UK’s exclusion from European Union, China might be just in time to become the new caretaker geopolitical mediator as it has already created new investment avenues. Simultaneously, China must make B& R initiative transparent and open so that countries won’t hesitate in contributing into this huge project. All fiscal policies and the time frames of the projects under B & R must be well-devised."
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