Trade network under Chinese control: Why Europe sleeps the new Silk Road

A worldwide network of ports, highways and railway lines: China's President Xi wants to integrate Southern Europe into his project for a new Silk Road. Germany and France are outraged - and still look inactive.

French President Emmanuel Macron has spoken well: "We want a silk road that goes both ways," Macron said on Monday at the state visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping at the Paris Elysee Palace. But what he did not say: how he wants to provide oncoming traffic? To emulate the Chinese and build European ports in Asia?

The Europeans have a problem. So far, they combined the exotic concept of the Silk Road with antique cloth trade and the famous journey of the Venetian Macro Polos to China. But suddenly the Silk Road begins at their door: soon in Trieste and Genoa.

Xi had already visited Rome before Paris - and there agreed with the Italian government participation in the now six-year-old Chinese Silk Road project. The Chinese are now expanding the ports of Trieste and Genoa. It's worth it: A ship that comes from China and takes the Suez Canal, saves five travel days when it lands in Trieste or Genoa instead of Hamburg or Rotterdam.

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"Trieste will thus become a competitor for the ports in Northern Europe, which is why Germany criticizes our agreements," said Sergio Razeto, head of the leading Italian business association Confindustria in the Venice region, the French newspaper "Le Monde". And German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas promptly agreed with Razeto when he prophesied that the Italians would "have a bitter aftertaste" when doing business with China. Because, according to Maas in the "Welt am Sonntag", China pursues its interests "beinhart".

Did he mean that the Italians were too soft for the hard business on the Silk Road? Well, Maas and Macron obviously do not even know how to drive on this road.

The Chinese project has long been world famous. In English it is called the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) . So far, loans totaling more than $ 200 billion have been committed worldwide. Experts believe the sum could quintuple over the next ten years. The project is closely associated with the name Xis, which launched it right after he took power in 2013. China wants to pump its foreign exchange reserves generated by years of trade surpluses back abroad - to create a worldwide trading network under Chinese control.


First they built roads and harbors in Pakistan, where in the past once the Silk Road actually ran. Meanwhile, however, the Chinese also count their infrastructure investments in Africa as a Silk Road project. Although nobody used to sell silk from China in Africa.

Internationally, the project has long been criticized. The evil example is Sri Lanka, where China invested so much that the small, poor country has now become financially dependent on Beijing. Others know how to defend themselves: Malaysia's 93-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir caused a worldwide sensation last summer when he refused further loans on his visit to Beijing to protect his country's independence from China. But is Europe's independence at risk with the Chinese port construction in Italy?

The port manager in Trieste denies. "There are Turks, Danes and Hungarians here too, and the Chinese will not control the port," said the head of the state-run port of Trieste, Zeno D'Agostino, the French newspaper "Le Monde".

But the concern in Europe is great. The state-owned "China Road and Bridge Cooperation" is already building a highway in Montenegro, from the Adriatic coast to Serbia. Previously, a Croatian construction consortium failed on the challenging road project through valleys and mountains. In between, the European Investment Bank campaigned for the highway. But in the end, the Chinese are doing it today, with many of their own construction workers on site. Does this look like the future infrastructure development of Europe?

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"China has come up with one of the most important geopolitical concepts of recent decades in its so-called new Silk Road," Macron said in a keynote speech to French ambassadors from around the world last August. "We can not pretend there is not," he warned. "We must not be too fascinated, it is a vision of globalization, which in some regions has the advantage of providing stability, but which is hegemonic."

Would Frenchmen and Germans now have to build ports and motorways in southern Europe in order to fend off China's hegemonic strategy? Seriously, nobody in Paris and Berlin will ask this question. "It's a good thing, European countries are competing for Chinese investment," commented former Italian Prime Minister and European Commission President Romano Prodi in The New York Times. the China deal of his populist successors in Rome.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets Xi and Macron in Paris this Tuesday. However, at the latest after Xi's return to China, Germany and France should quickly remove the new Silk Road from the agenda. The project has too much to do with Europe's own omissions.