Silk Road Headlines_24th October, 2018

Among the news items and analyses from this week, a timely Carnegie paper sheds light on the growing magnitude of China’s global influence [China’s Rise as a Geoeconomic Influencer: Four European Case Studies]. Labelling Xi Jinping’s China an ‘exporter of influence’, the author stresses how Beijing’s recent initiatives – most notably the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - have been aiming at expanding China’s presence beyond the ‘usual’ financially appealing endeavours in developing and/or illiberal countries. What is newer, and perhaps unprecedented, is China’s growing influence in Europe. The paper focuses on four smaller European countries (three members of the EU - Greece, Portugal, and the Czech Republic - and Serbia), and offers evidence that China is indeed expanding its influence portfolio. Beijing has successfully not only managed to create a new, positive narrative in those countries, but has also become ‘acceptable’ enough as a (mostly economic) partner for a number of EU member states to use it as leverage against European institutions.

Elsewhere, China’s growing outreach has been a source of great concern for the new US administration, which has adopted a much more confrontational outlook on global politics and sees China as a dangerous hegemonic competitor. Amidst the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing, President Trump and senior members of his cabinet have been even more vocal than before vis-à-vis the dangers posed by China’s initiatives in weaker economic contexts. This is especially true in Latin America, traditionally a US sphere of influence, where China has been gaining ground as an infrastructure investor [China denounces Pompeo's 'malicious' Latam comments amid influence battle]. While the US allegedly ‘welcomes’ competition from China, it has been very critical about the lack of transparency of its state-owned enterprises and what it calls ‘predatory economic activity’.

As China becomes a global actor with ambitions beyond the economic sphere, the rest of the world - including Europe and the United States - needs to assess this new situation in a constructive way. China insists that it is neither trying to play the divide-and-rule game, nor seeking any form of hegemony, but the West should be aware of Beijing’s greater assertiveness and try to devise its own initiatives so as to be able to develop synergies with the Asian giant on an as much as possible equal footing, prioritising critical engagement over fearmongering and/or isolationism.

Francesco S. Montesano