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Europe casts a wary eye on China’s Silk Road plans

  • Published at 06:14 pm January 7th, 2018
Europe casts a wary eye on China’s Silk Road plans

Depending on who you ask in Europe, China’s colossal East-West infrastructure programme is either an opportunity or a threat - and when French President Emmanuel Macron visits next week, Beijing will be watching to see how keen he is to jump on board.

Since China launched the New Silk Road plan in 2013, the hugely ambitious initiative to connect Asia and Europe by road, rail and sea has elicited both enormous interest and considerable anxiety.

The $1 trillion project is billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabric, spices, and a wealth of other goods in both directions.

Known in China as “One Belt One Road,” the plans would see gleaming new road and rail networks built through Central Asia and beyond, and new maritime routes stretching through the Indian Ocean and Red Sea.

Beijing would develop roads, ports and rail lines through 65 countries representing an estimate 60% of the world’s population and a third of its economic output.

Win-win?

In Central and Eastern Europe the programme has been met with altogether more enthusiasm, given the huge infrastructure investment that China could bring to the poorer end of the continent.

“Some consider the awakening of China and Asia as a threat,” Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a summit in Budapest in November which gathered China with 16 Central and Eastern European countries.

Bogdan Goralczyk, director of the Centre for Europe at the University of Warsaw, noted there were divisions even within eastern Europe, with Poland hesitant due to its right-wing government’s “strong anti-communist stance.”

Others to the west have made little effort to hide their concern.

The former Nato chief noted that Greece, a major recipient of Chinese largesse, had in June blocked an EU declaration condemning Chinese rights abuses.

It came just months after Athens’ Piraeus port, one of the biggest in the world, passed under Chinese control.

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is favourable to Chinese investment, but has reservations.

France is meanwhile seeking to “rebalance” relations with China during Macron’s trip, according to his office - eyeing a trade deficit of €30 billion, its biggest with any partner.

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