Silk Road Headlines_26th March, 2020

In these times of global crisis, the Chinese government is stepping up its medical assistance efforts from Japan to Peru and Serbia to Liberia. Along the Belt and Road, many projects are stalled due to obstacles to the flow of Chinese labour [What the COVID-19 Pandemic May Mean for China's Belt and Road Initiative]. In these circumstances, Beijing is moving swiftly with the aim of widening its role of a trade partner, by reinventing itself as a reliable source of assistance and a leader in health care. In a phone call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, Xi Jinping stated China’s readiness to work on a ‘Health Silk Road’ in order to fight the coronavirus epidemic.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a similar effort to present China as a provider of public health knowledge by hosting a video conference with relevant officials from the ‘17+1’ grouping in Central and Eastern Europe [Limited Payoffs: What Have BRI Investments Delivered for China Amid the Coronavirus Outbreak?]. As Europe has become the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak over the last few weeks, it is very likely China will follow up with similar activities.

How such attention is perceived in Europe is yet to be seen. In the past Brussels has been struggling to coordinate member states’ response to China’s growing global role, which may increase even further as a result of the coronavirus crisis [How corona broke the system]. If this is the case then the EU could experience a déjà vu reminiscent of the global financial crisis, when Beijing benefited from the perception that China can provide attractive cooperation opportunities in comparison to Europe [Exposure to China: A reality check]. After all, it was the previous financial crisis that created the opportunity for a Chinese enterprise to take operational control of the port of Piraeus.

 

By Clingendael