Highlights 10th February

Janus-faced policies, European disenchantment, China’s port investments and more on the BRI tribunals.

The Greek port of Piraeus in 2015
(Source: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Academic exposure: The many faces of China

In this essay for the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), Dr David Kelly offers a tool to deepen our understanding of Chinese behaviour on the international stage. A good introduction for the beginner as well as a succinct overview for more experienced China watchers, this article mentions seven identities that China identifies itself with. These ideal types, as the author argues, blend together in different ways.

Interestingly, Dr Kelly tests his framework of those “submerged tectonic plates that shape the formation of China’s complex interests,” against the most important issues of the day.  While there often is an overlap, some of these types also stand in contradiction to each other. For this reason, deeper studies ought to look at the way these seven types interact, their (in)coherence and mutual reinforcement.

Dr David Kelly leads research at China Policy, with the main responsibility for the geopolitics team.

Expert view: China buying up Europe’s ports

For those left wondering about concrete manifestations of the BRI, China’s port investments may be very illuminating. In an article for Foreign Policy, its geoeconomics correspondent Keith Johnson argues that China’s state-owned port operators are the leading edge of its Belt and Road. As the author writes:

In bustling ports from Singapore to the North Sea, state-owned Chinese firms are turning the idea into a reality with a series of aggressive acquisitions that are physically redrawing the map of global trade and political influence.

Indeed, Cosco Shipping Ports in December 2017 finalised its takeover of the terminal in Zeebrugge, Belgium. Chinese firms now control about one tenth of Europe’s port capacity. Quoting Frans-Paul van der Putten of Clingendael, the report states: “the fundamental goal seems to be to decrease China’s dependence on foreign elements and increase China’s influence around the world.”

Biggest news: Europe waking up?

Not long after the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) called for more realism in the European approach towards China, a new report launched early this week followed similar lines. The report by the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) and the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) discusses China’s political influence in Europe. After discussing China’s comprehensive toolset, the report goes on to study the Chinese presence in Australia. In doing so, it is able to make some preliminary predictions for Europe.

The authors argue that in comparison to Russia, Chinese influence is “bound to much more consequential in the medium- to long-term future.” At the same time, the Chinese efforts are “less flashy,” while the economic stakes are much higher.

With under sixty pages, the report is utterly readable. The tables and maps provided throughout offer a nice overview of the elements that are discussed. Furthermore, the report also makes several suggestions for a new European strategy on China. At its essence, reports like these may help to better the understanding between Europe and China, as is clearly needed.

To read over breakfast: The battle for global investment standards

As reported earlier on The China Road, China plans to set up its own mechanism for dispute settlement related to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). In doing so, the country may aim to establish its own investment standards. As such, the decision may set stir a normative and legal battle between the Chinese and international tribunals. Accordingly, Morgan Stanley at the end of January reported that Chinese lending for its BRI is set to rise in 2018.

In other news:

 

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