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The African continent offers Huawei and other Chinese technology giants rich opportunities. Tom Bayes unpicks the stories of their rise in Africa and warns more is at stake than technology.

Erratic and aggressive in the trade dispute with Beijing, Donald Trump is emboldening China’s military hawks, industrial state-interventionists, and nationalistic cheerleaders.

On his journey along the New Silk Road, Jacob Mardell discovers that Serbians are very happy to overstate China’s influence in the Western Balkans – and says EU leaders should take note.

The British Prime Minister seems determined to forge a “Golden Era” of UK-China relations, in the apparent hope that a free trade agreement with China can make up for the economic consequences of pending Brexit. But the wisdom of Theresa May’s course is being questioned domestically - the UK Parliament’s august Foreign Affairs Committee recently called for a re-think of what it views as Britain’s one-dimensional, trade-driven China policy.

Last week, over 30 heads of state and government attended the second "Belt and Road Forum" in Beijing. China's president Xi Jinping stressed that the Chinese initiative had already opened up new space for global economic growth and produced new platforms for international trade and investment. Our author Jacob Mardell is currently travelling countries that are already involved in the efforts to create a "New Silk Road." In this blogpost, which was first published by Berlin Policy Journal, he reports on the Great Stone industrial park outside Minsk - a place that currently feels like an empty monument to political ambition, but with increased involvement from Chinese investors and Beijing’s backing it still has potential.

Subsidies are boosting rail freight along the New Silk Road, but it’s too soon to say if this expensive investment will pay off in the long run. On his journey along the "Belt and Road", MERICS freelance researcher Jacob Mardell stopped in the Polish village Małaszewicze where the larger part of EU-China rail freight traffic passes through. 

An interview with Mikko Huotari and Mathieu Duchâtel

The French think tank Institut Montaigne and MERICS jointly organized a Franco-German workshop on "Promoting a European China policy." In this interview, Mathieu Duchâtel, Director of Institut Montaigne’s Asia Program, and Mikko Huotari, Deputy Director of MERICS, discuss differences and similarities of German and French policies towards China. What are the limits of a convergence on China policy, and can this be translated into a more united European approach?

Rebecca Arcesati

When EU and Chinese leaders meet in Brussels next week at their annual summit, the EU needs to present a united front. That looks like a tall order, and it remains to be seen whether the EU will be able to put its relations with China on a more equal and principled footing.

MERICS expert Jacob Mardell has embarked on a journey to investigate how China’s Belt and Road Initiative is being implemented on the ground. His travels are taking him all the way from Brussels to Beijing.

 

Lauren A. Johnston

In March, Italy signed an agreement pledging its support for China’s trans-continental Belt and Road Initiative. Rome hopes Chinese companies will invest in the country’s ageing infrastructure, while critics worry about China’s perceived geopolitical ambitions. However, Beijing's push has to be seen in a larger context:  an important driver of its outbound ambitions is the interaction of economic and demographic change at home. Faced with an ageing society, China is looking for investment opportunities in countries with younger populations along the BRI.

 

According to the most recent estimates, China now has the second largest defense budget behind the United States. If Beijing refuses to engage in arms control, it takes a free ride and behaves as irresponsibly as Russia and the United States did by just walking away from the INF treaty.

By Rebecca Arcesati

The historic moon landing of China’s Chang'e 4 marks a symbolic victory for the emerging space power. But lack of transparency along with concerns about dual-use plans and surveillance undermine China’s efforts to persuade the world of its peaceful rise. For Europe, Beijing can be a selective partner on space matters at best.

The China Road Project team plans to traverse the Eurasian supercontinent, from London to Jakarta and back again, investigating the infrastructure projects that make up China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). By gathering data on projects and interviewing stakeholders, the project aims to shine a light on what is a much talked about, but little understood initiative. It also seeks to tell the stories of those whose lives are being transformed by the new roads, railroads, ports, and power stations along the BRI. 

By Rebecca Arcesati

China’s efforts to shape global technology standards and norms have been at the heart of its ambitions to achieve technological self-reliance. Now these efforts are yielding results in areas like 5G, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity – and they endanger Europe’s industrial competitiveness.

China’s new EU policy paper reflects the assertiveness of Xi’s China and a more nuanced Chinese assessment of EU capabilities. The result is a more strident set of demands for Brussels – and clear evidence European policymakers must be ready for more frictions in interactions with Chinese counterparts in the future. 

Jerome A. Cohen

The normalization of Sino-American relations in 1971 benefited the people on Taiwan and in China, while the Soviet Union and the Chiang Kai-shek government lost out. On various occasions the US decision to normalize relations with China was critized domestically and internationally. In an article first published by ChinaFile, Jerome A. Cohen, professor at New York University School of Law, says that US government decided for the preferable option of uneasy but stable peace amidst worse choices.

 

Lauren A. Johnston

One country and one region that are each home to more than a billion people – China and Africa – are fundamental to international efforts to combat climate change. Since China is a leading investor in Africa’s infrastructure as part of its Belt and Road Initiative, it is timely to identify lessons – good and bad – from China’s own development experience for African policy makers and interested investors. This can support African countries to adopt a more sustainable industrial path than did China over the last forty years.

Podcast with Alicia García Herrero

The meeting between US President Trump and the Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina did not lead to an end to the Sino-American trade war, but only to a truce between the two super powers. According to the Hong Kong-based economist Alicia García Herrero the truce gives both sides more time to disentangle their economies from each other.

MERICS Guest Author Marcin Kaczmarski

The closer cooperation between China and Russia is unlikely to turn into a threat to the EU. Even with growing exports to China, Russia will still need the EU as a market for its oil and gas. China on the other hand, benefits from access to the European market and does not share Russia’s political goal to derail the European project.

Chinese private security companies (PSCs) are increasingly going global. Not so long ago they focussed mostly on providing bodyguard services for China’s rich and famous, and guarding facilities in China. But now, China’s growing global footprint has driven this sector to start operating beyond China’s borders.

Italy’s right-wing populist government has embarked on a course of all-out cooperation with China, presenting it to the Italian public as an alternative, while alienating European partners. Ultimately, a more active China policy that lacks balanced assessments is setting Italy on a risky route.

Even under a more critical government in Islamabad, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is unlikely to be derailed. The stakes for both sides are too high. Pakistan needs Chinese funding for its economic revival, and a healthy Pakistani economy is in China’s regional security interest.

Beijing will use the China-Africa Cooperation Forum to present China as a global power. US disengagement from and European disunity and indecision towards Africa help Beijing’s self-promotion as a reliable partner for African countries. For Europe, China can be a partner or competitor in Africa, depending on the issue.  

Frank N. Pieke plans to build on MERICS' successful first five years as the institute's new director and CEO. The former head of the Leiden Asia Center and the Oxford China Center sees the Communist Party's transformation as the key to understanding China's global rise. At the helm of MERICS, Pieke and his deputy Mikko Huotari want to facilitate more coordinated information-sharing on China in Europe.

China used to be a strong proponent of a stable and unified Europe – as a market and as a pillar in a multipolar world. Yet its recent infrastructure foreign policy initiatives and political outreach to central and eastern European countries have raised the question if Beijing’s priorities have changed. This article is the sixth and final part of a MERICS blog series on China’s new foreign policy setup.