Silk Road Headlines_27th February, 2020

China is no stranger to adjusting its approach to the local political climate in countries along the BRI to advance its flagship initiative, even when the domestic situation is unstable. Myanmar is under international scrutiny due to the Rohingya humanitarian crisis. Simultaneously, Yangon has an important role in the BRI due to the China-Myanmar Economic corridor that supposedly will give an alternative route for Chinese imports and exports, circumventing the Malacca Strait. Despite the unstable security situation, China is highly determined to enhance the connectivity and trade via Myanmar by exploring alternative routes across the country [China’s Belt and Road detours downstream in Myanmar]. In the Westernmost part of the Asian continent, domestic political stability in Iraq is far from stable as well, due to deterioration of the bilateral relations with the USA. China quickly condemned the US-led killing of Iranian general Soleimani on Iraqi soil and the Chinese ambassador to Iraq conveyed Beijing’s readiness to bolster security cooperation between Baghdad and Beijing [Iraq: China’s Belt and Road Helps Beijing Win Friends and Influence Nations in the Middle East].

More than a decade earlier, while Greece was suffering the immediate impacts of the global financial crisis, China laid the groundwork for its involvement in the Piraeus port. Not only was the investment timely, but it has also been profitable. In 2019, the turnover was 12.3% up and the net profits grew 27% year-on-year, as container handling at the terminals operated by the COSCO-controlled Piraeus Port Authority rose [Piraeus Port Authority enjoys another good year].

Alongside successful improvements in transportation between China and Europe, there are cases where China’s charm offensive has failed. In Kyrgyzstan for example, an arrangement was settled last year on leasing 200 hectares of land for a joint Kyrgyz-Chinese logistics centre. While the deal was supported by the Kyrgyz government, locals close to where the project was about to take place, argued against leasing Kyrgyz land to China, fearful of a possible land-grab masked behind the investment deal [Kyrgyz-Chinese Joint Venture Scrapped After Protests]. Consequently, protests occurred and the logistics centre was cancelled, demonstrating that the environment in which the BRI operates is ever-uncertain, even in countries that are relatively stable.

By Clingendael