European firms seeking to participate in China’s Belt and Road Initiative face rising hurdles while Chinese state-owned companies are successfully pricing out their European competitors… A push for greater transparency and reciprocity along the BRI could help level the playing field.
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The European Commission has become increasingly critical of various Chinese investments within the EU, fueling an ongoing debate within Europe about investment screening. While the EU released a framework for foreign investment screening implicitly aimed at China in November 2018, the debate has exposed cross-cutting divisions within Europe. Looking ahead to 2019, we should not expect a clear resolution anytime soon.
Since its launch in 2013, governments across Europe have made their interest in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) clear. At present, 17 EU member states are members of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The 16+1 framework — established by China in Central, Eastern, and Southeast Europe — includes eleven EU-member states and five countries from the Western Balkans. Greece has officially applied to join as the seventeenth member of the framework.
In the past decade, China has opened an investment bridgehead and is building a transport network in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. The level of engagement by Chinese state-owned companies, political leaders, diplomatic representatives, lending institutions, universities, and cultural organizations is gradually redefining the relationships between China and these regions of Europe.
The magnitude of the Balkan Silk Road project poses a mixture of opportunities and policy challenges for countries engaging in or seeking to benefit from its implementation.