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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 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.

 

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.

 

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. 

The emphasis on regional expertise is a major asset of China’s diplomatic corps. Chinese diplomats frequently rotate within a geographic region. China’s top ambassadors, however, are often left in their positions for a long time. The preference for seniority and the lack of qualified potential successors could weaken the overall effectiveness of China’s diplomatic outreach. This article is part 5 of a MERICS blog series on China’s new foreign policy setup.

China’s foreign affairs expenditures may pale in comparison to the United States or Germany, but they grew at an unprecedented speed over the past 15 years. Even in the face of slower GDP growth and rising domestic obligations, China is likely to further scale up its spending to secure its influence in an increasingly multipolar world. This article is part 4 of a MERICS blog series on China’s new foreign policy setup.

China’s new development agency is designed to coordinate aid and prioritize strategic foreign policy goals over short time commercial interests. At the same time, the new agency institutionalizes a mercantilist model of development typified by the Belt and Road Initiative. This article is part 3 of a MERICS blog series on China’s new foreign policy setup. 

The establishment of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission appears to strengthen the role of the CCP in China’s foreign policymaking. The new body will likely have a higher standing than the former Leading Small Group on Foreign Affairs and further sideline the government agencies in charge of foreign policy. This article is part 2 of a MERICS blog series on China’s new foreign policy setup. Read part 1 here.

Xi Jinping has a global vision for China and has centralized foreign policy around himself and the CCP. In this blog series, MERICS researchers take a closer look at the (new) setup of China’s foreign policy leadership, institutions, budget and personnel – as well as on its policy approach to Europe. This article is part 1 of the series.