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#China - The Belt and Road initiative meets excitement and concerns in Europe

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5 year after its launch, Chinese President Xi Jinping's flagship Belt and Road initiative (BRI) is still facing an uncertain prospect in Europe. Mixed feelings were shown during a multi-stakeholder conference on the initiative in Brussels, where European business associations expressed excitement about the potential opportunities, and the EU officials warned of "no future for the BRI" if a level playing field is not established.

The conference, held together by the ACCA (the association of Chartered Certified Accountants), the EU-Asia Centre, the European Movement International (EMI) and UEAPME on Wednesday, was attended by a group of the EU officials, decision makers, and representatives from European trade union and business groups. Among the speakers were MEP Jo Leinen, Head of the European Parliament EU-China Delegation, and Alain Baron, team leader of the EU-China Connectivity platform, the main negotiation channel for EU-China cooperation on the BRI.
Leinen praised that the scale and scope of the Belt and Road initiative is "nothing can be compared to in the 21st century", but the unilateral idea proposed by Beijing needs to become multilateral in order to achieve success.

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"If we're not able to make sure that the level playing field, the reciprocity and transparency is applying to the BRI, I am afraid there will be no future for the BRI," said Baron.

The Belt and Road Initiative, first addressed by Xi in 2013 as "One Belt, One Road" shortly after he assumed office, aims to create a trade and infrastructure network connecting China by land and sea with Europe and Africa along ancient trade routes.

Closely linked to Xi's leadership and legacy, the initiative is expected to mark a global economic paradigm shift with a promise of more than $1 trillion investment in over 60 countries. China clearly showed its endeavor when the initiative was enshrined in the Communist Party Charter during the 19th Party congress in October 2017.

 

Compared to many countries in Africa, Southeast and Central Asia, the EU has been wary of endorsing the BRI. French President Emmanuel Macron mentioned about the imbalances of the initiative during his visit in China earlier this month. UK prime minister Theresa May, who is visiting China later this week, is expected to raise concerns about the initiative in front of the Chinese officials

Projects under the Belt and Road initiative have been criticized for their lack of transparency and monopoly of Chinese contractors. According to a study published a few days ago by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, among all the contractors participating in Chinese-funded projects under the BRI in Asia and Europe, 89% are Chinese companies.

China's different understandings of market rules, huge dominance of the government in business and lack of freedom in the associations were also stressed during the conference. The Budapest-Belgrade high-speed railway project, one of the hallmark schemes under the BRI in Europe, is still under the European Commission's investigation for breaking EU tendering rules.

"We do see a lot of opportunities, but also challenges," said Ada Leung, Head of the ACCA China, to EU Reporter. She pointed out that a lot of coordination needs to be done since different jurisdiction and cultures are involved along the planned routes of the BRI.

The EU is also facing an internal challenge. So far, the member states have not yet had a common standpoint towards the BRI. While France and Germany hesitate to endorse the BRI, six European countries, including Spain, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Czech Republic and Poland, have already signed a joint communiqué with China and other 23 countries on the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in May 2017. There is as well concern that the 16+1 initiative between China and East European countries could undermine the EU's overall approach to China.

 

 

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US concern over China nukes buildup after new silos report

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Military vehicles carrying DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missiles travel past Tiananmen Square during the military parade marking the 70th founding anniversary of People's Republic of China, on its National Day in Beijing, China 1 October, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

The Pentagon and Republican congressmen on Tuesday (27 July) aired fresh concerns about China's build-up of its nuclear forces after a new report saying Beijing was building 110 more missile silos, writes David Brunnstrom, Reuters.

An American Federation of Scientists (AFS) report on Monday (26 July) said satellite images showed China was building a new field of silos near Hami in the eastern part of its Xinjiang region.

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The report came weeks after another on the construction of about 120 missile silos in Yumen, a desert area about 240 miles (380 km) to the southeast.

"This is the second time in two months the public has discovered what we have been saying all along about the growing threat the world faces and the veil of secrecy that surrounds it," the U.S. Strategic Command said in tweet linked to a New York Times article on the AFS report.

The State Department in early July called China's nuclear buildup concerning and said it appeared Beijing was deviating from decades of nuclear strategy based around minimal deterrence. It called on China to engage with it "on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races."

Republican Congressman Mike Turner, ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, said China's nuclear build-up was "unprecedented" and made clear it was "deploying nuclear weapons to threaten the United States and our allies."

He said China's refusal to negotiate arms control "should be a cause for concern and condemned by all responsible nations".

Another Republican, Mike Rogers, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the Chinese build-up showed the need to rapidly modernize the US nuclear deterrent.

A 2020 Pentagon report estimated China's nuclear warhead stockpile in "the low 200s" and said it was projected to at least double in size as Beijing expands and modernizes its forces. Analysts say the United States has around 3,800 warheads, and according to a State Department factsheet, 1,357 of those were deployed as of 1 March.

Washington has repeatedly called on China to join it and Russia in a new arms control treaty.

The report on the new silos comes as Assistant Secretary of State Wendy Sherman is due to hold arms control talks with Russia in Geneva on Wednesday.

Sherman was in China earlier this week for talks at which Beijing accused Washington of creating an "imaginary enemy" to divert attention from domestic problems and suppress China.

Beijing says its arsenal is dwarfed by those of the United States and Russia and it is ready to conduct bilateral dialogues on strategic security "on the basis of equality and mutual respect".

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US and China positions at a standstill in entrenched Tianjin talks

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With no indication of a US-China leaders' summit in the works, nor any outcomes announced from high-level diplomatic talks on Monday (26 July), relations between Beijing and Washington appear to be at a standstill as both sides insist the other must make concessions for ties to improve, write Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom.

US officials had stressed that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman's trip to the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin to meet Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials was a chance to ensure that stiffening competition between the two geopolitical rivals does not veer into conflict.

But the combative statements that emerged from the meeting – albeit coupled with suggestions from officials that closed-door sessions were marginally more cordial – mirrored the tone set in Alaska in March, when the first senior-level diplomatic talks under President Joe Biden were overshadowed by rare public vitriol from both sides.

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While Tianjin did not expose the same degree of outward hostility that was on display in Alaska, the two sides appeared to stop short of actually negotiating anything, sticking instead to lists of established demands.

Sherman pressed China on actions Washington says run counter to the rules-based international order, including Beijing's crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, what the U.S. government has deemed is an ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, abuses in Tibet and the curtailing of press freedoms.

"I think it'd be wrong to characterize the United States as somehow seeking or soliciting China's cooperation," a senior U.S. administration official told reporters after the talks, referring to global concerns such as climate change, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

"It is going to be up to the Chinese side to determine how ready they are as well to… take the next step," a second U.S. administration official said of bridging disagreements.

But Wang insisted in a statement that the ball was in the United States' court.

"When it comes to respecting international rules, it is the United States that must think again," he said, demanding that Washington remove all unilateral sanctions and tariffs on China.

China's Foreign Ministry has recently signaled there could be preconditions for the United States on which any kind of co-operation would be contingent, a stance some analysts say is a recipe for diplomatic ossification and that leaves dim prospects for improved ties.

Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said it was important for the two sides to maintain some form of engagement. At the same time, there appeared to be no agreement in Tianjin for follow-up meetings or mechanisms for ongoing dialogue.

"That will probably leave US allies and partners uneasy. They are hoping for greater stability and predictability in the US-China relationship," Glaser said.

Both sides are likely to be disappointed if they expect the other to give in first, she added.

There has been some expectation in foreign policy circles that Biden could meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time since becoming president on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Italy in October.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the prospect of a Biden-Xi meeting did not come up in Tianjin, though she added that she expects there will be some opportunity to engage at some point.

Indications are, meanwhile, that the Biden administration may scale up both enforcement actions impacting Beijing – such as cracking down on Iranian oil sales to China – and coordination with allies in the context of countering China, including another summit later this year that Biden is keen to host with the leaders of Japan, Australia, and India.

Biden's White House also has given few signals that it intends to roll back tariffs on Chinese goods established under the Trump administration.

At the same time, cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic seems almost entirely out of reach, with the United States calling Beijing's rejection of a World Health Organization plan for further study of the virus' origin "irresponsible" and "dangerous".

There has been little sign either of a willingness by China to cooperate with Washington on the climate issue, a priority for Biden, despite energetic entreaties by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.

"What was on display in Tianjin is that both sides are still very far apart on how they view the value and role of diplomatic engagement," said Eric Sayers, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Scott Kennedy, a China specialist at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies,, said neither side saw much upside for now in being more cooperative.

"And there's no low-hanging fruit for cooperation for either side and any gesture toward co-operation actually comes with significant costs, both domestic and strategic," he said.

"I think we ought to have very low expectations about the two sides finding common ground and stabilizing the relationship in the near future."

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Chinese president Xi Jinping visits troubled region of Tibet

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President Xi Jinping (pictured) has visited the politically troubled region of Tibet, the first official visit by a Chinese leader in 30 years, writes BBC.

The president was in Tibet from Wednesday to Friday, but the visit only reported by state media on Friday due to the sensitivities of the trip.

China is accused of suppressing cultural and religious freedom in the remote and mainly Buddhist region.

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The government denies the accusations.

In footage released by state broadcaster CCTV, Mr Xi was seen greeting a crowd wearing ethnic costumes and waving the Chinese flag as he left his plane.

He arrived in Nyingchi, in the south-east of the country and visited a number of locations to learn about urban development, before travelling to the capital Lhasa on the high-altitude railway.

While in Lhasa, Mr Xi visited the Potala Palace, the traditional home of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

People in the city had "reported unusual activities and monitoring of their movement" ahead of his visit, advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet said on Thursday.

Mr Xi last visited the region 10 years ago as vice-president. The last sitting Chinese leader to officially visit Tibet was Jiang Zemin in 1990.

State media said Mr Xi took time to learn about the work being done on ethnic and religious affairs and the work done to protect Tibetan culture.

Many exiled Tibetans accuse Beijing of religious repression and eroding their culture.

Tibet has had a tumultuous history, during which it has spent some periods functioning as an independent entity and others ruled by powerful Chinese and Mongolian dynasties.

China sent in thousands of troops to enforce its claim on the region in 1950. Some areas became the Tibetan Autonomous Region and others were incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces.

China says Tibet has developed considerably under its rule, but campaign groups say China continues to violate human rights, accusing it of political and religious repression.

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