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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.

"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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