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.
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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.
China’s Belt and Road is commonly visualized as a train carrying commerce across Eurasia. But a train does not adequately capture BRI’s significance or scope. Instead, a Chinese flag is a better representation. Whether it is China’s intention or not, the increasing connectivity the BRI brings comes hand in hand with exposure to Chinese culture.
“China has lavished investment pledges on Balkan states as it prepares for a summit with 16 EU countries and aspiring members, stoking fears in Brussels and influential national capitals of an effort to divide the bloc” reports the Financial Times, citing data collected in collaboration with the CSIS Reconnecting Asia Project.
Nowhere else in Europe has China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) been met with quite such a warm embrace as in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). China’s large-scale financing of highways, railways, ports, and other infrastructure to better connect China to Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe has clearly struck a chord with CEE leaders.