The ongoing "divorce proceedings" between the U.K. and the EU, otherwise known as Brexit, has caught the attention of the world. Until now, both sides have yet to come to an amicable deal that satisfies both parties.
While the Brexit proceedings continue, China, the initiator of the enormous Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has grasped the chance to slip into the European heartland. It may be a bombshell to see China's growing influence on EU countries, which usually orbits the U.S. on various issues.
However, China – which was once in ideological opposition to Western countries – has become a new economic alternative for some countries in the EU.
Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Italy, Monaco and France during his Europe tour between March 21 and 26. During the visit, Jinping held talks with the heads of these three countries, including Italy's President Giuseppe Conte and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Prince Albert II of Monaco, and French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Phillippe.
There are European countries like Albania and Bulgaria that are interested in engaging with the BRI – the biggest project of the 21st century. Given they are much smaller than both Italy and France in terms of economy, population, military and global penetration, it is understandable that both countries, among the poorest in Europe, would look for new investments and trade connections with any other country.
However, it is surprising to see two major European powers like Italy and France cozying up to China, especially since the world views the EU as a close U.S. ally. This may indicate a split forming between the countries for their own economic survival. For instance, Italian Prime Minister Conte thinks "China's 'Belt and Road' infrastructure plan could be good news for Italy."
Xi's visit comes before the next China-EU summit and may play a crucial and positive role in discovering the general stance of European countries towards China amid warnings and pressure from the U.S.
It is realistic to view these three economies aspiring to boost their economies in the midst of the global economic slowdown and the trade dispute between China and the U.S. For instance, Italy fell into recession three times in the last decade. Therefore, Italy would likely be eager to revive its economy with the help of China's "Belt and Road" project.
The project, championed by Xi Jinping since 2013, aims to connect China to the rest of the world from Asia to the Middle East, to Europe and Africa, by sea and land.
According to the Chinese authorities, the main motive behind this project is to revive trade and provide economic integration. In this respect, there are more than 60 countries engaged with the BRI. Furthermore, there are some states in the EU – the Czech Republic, Greece and Portugal – that signed have already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU).
China's side would also expect to enhance relations with Italy, France and Monaco in many areas such as science and technology.
However, as per the international power structure, it should not be forgotten that China is still deemed a rival to the West. In other words, the old would always be suspicious of the new. According to chinadaily.com.cn, the EU has a 10-point plan for dealing with China.
Is China fishing in Italy and France?
China is looking toward deeper collaborations with two important EU countries – Italy and France. Only time will tell if Italy and France will change their respective positions towards China. The Chinese win-win strategy could very well be to deepen the split among the EU countries, and between the EU and the U.S.
It should be noted the Americans are increasing pressure on the EU to bar Chinese telecom giant Huawei from their 5G telecommunications market, accusing the company of espionage. Both the U.S. and Australia have already barred Huawei from their 5G telecommunications market.
However, France, Germany and Monaco have gone the opposite direction in regards to Huawei, according to Danson Cheong's article on the issue published in the Straits Times. There are no restrictions in Germany as well, while 5G telecommunication services are about to start in France and Monaco.
Lastly, the enhancement of cooperation in strategic fields between the EU and China may be dependent on some of the demands by the U.S. in trade talks with China. These include intellectual property protection and improvement of Chinese market standards.
* Ph.D. candidate in international relations at the University of Malaya, Malaysia
Please click to read our informative text prepared pursuant to the Law on the Protection of Personal Data No. 6698 and to get information about the cookies used on our website in accordance with the relevant legislation.
6698 sayılı Kişisel Verilerin Korunması Kanunu uyarınca hazırlanmış aydınlatma metnimizi okumak ve sitemizde ilgili mevzuata uygun olarak kullanılan çerezlerle ilgili bilgi almak için lütfen tıklayınız.