While the EU puts together an initial response to the challenge of Chinese investments and infrastructure ownership in Europe, Italy and France this week signaled sovereign decisions to shape their own approaches within the evolving context.
Two articles in the EUObserver published this week provide insights into the priorities of the leadership of each country.
With regard to Italy, the Chinese have their first EU participant in their global “silk road” initiative.
In an article by Mads Frese and published on March 22, 2019, the Italian position on the silk road initiative was discussed.
During Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome the Italian government will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) about its participation in China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road, also known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which aims to create an intercontinental infrastructure connecting Asia with Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe.
Consequently, Washington has put a lot of pressure on Rome not to sign, primarily citing security issues related to digital infrastructure.
According to Lucio Carracciolo, director of the geopolitical magazine Limes, Italy has thus, “without even noticing”, ended up “in the ring where the US and China are competing for the World Heavyweight Championship”.
Later in the week, the Chinese leader was in Paris meeting with President Macron. He was not seen wearing a yellow jacket.
In an article by Andrew Rettman, published on March 26, 2019, entitled “France Takes Chinese Billions Despite EU Concerns,” underscores the tight rope act which President Macron is playing with regard to China.
France has signed €40bn of business deals with China, despite concerns on strategic investment and human rights abuse.
The bulk of the new deals, worth €30bn, were in the form of 300 airplanes to be sold by European firm Airbus to China Aviation Supplies Holding Company, while the rest covered energy, transport, and food.
French president Emmanuel Macron and Chinese president Xi Jinping announced the moves at a bilateral meeting in France on Monday (25 March).
They will meet again in an enlarged format with German chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker also in France on Tuesday….
The wave of Chinese investment, which had so far focused on poorer central European states, has raised alarm in Europe that China’s acquisition of sensitive assets, such as commercial ports, or involvement in high-end IT projects, such as 5G telecoms networks, posed strategic, intellectual property, and security threats to the EU.
“If some countries believe that they can do clever business with the Chinese, then they will be surprised when they wake up and find themselves dependent,” German foreign minister Heiko Maas warned on Sunday.
Gunther Oettinger, Germany’s EU commissioner, also voiced concern the same day that, soon, “in Italy and other European countries, infrastructure of strategic importance like power networks, rapid rail lines or harbours [will] no longer be in European, but in Chinese hands”
Meanwhile, the same French government is working with Australia to build a new generation of submarines whose clear focus is upon the Chinese military push out into the Pacific.
Italian and French actions do raise concerns at the EU level, notably with a new effort being launched to raise not just awareness of Chinese investments but also the question of infrastructure controls.
The featured photo shows the French and Chinese leaders ate dinner with their wives, prior to announcing business deals in Paris (Photo: elysee.fr)