IS OBOR establishing footholds in Europe in the wake of Brexit?

Once known for its inward policies, China now controls one-tenth of all the European port capacity

News Desk March 02, 2018
The Greek port of Piraeus on Jan. 31, 2015 PHOTO:AFP

The blueprint of China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) project has so far seemed like a huge promise with few material prototypes. However, China is definitely stomping huge footprints in deep waters.

A report published by the Foreign Policy Magazineshows how China is advancing, one port at a time from the Global South all the way into the Global North. The trillion-dollar project is amassing ports stretching from Singapore to Greece.

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State-owned Chinese firms such as the Cosco Shipping Ports and China Merchants Ports holdings are riding big waves, taking over cargo terminals in the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.

According to the report, the first acquisition took place in Belgium when Cosco finalised the takeover of the terminal in Zeebrugge. These inroads opened new channels in northwestern Europe, as Chinese firms went on a spree of buying over ports in Spain, Italy and Greece.

China, which was once known for its inward policies and focus on the home economy, now controls one-tenth of all the European port capacity.

“For somebody like Cosco, the deals make sense financially, and they can make their lords and masters in Beijing happy because it fits the Belt and Road narrative,” said Neil Davidson, a senior analyst for ports and terminals at Drewry, the maritime consultancy. “At bottom, there is a geopolitical underpinning to a lot of this.”

The report further explains that, Costco alone, sank $1 billion into buying and refurbishing the ancient Greek port of Piraeus and the investment has anchored Greek assistance to the Chinese for Geo-economic and political voyages into greater Europe. It seems like the age-old-civilisation rivals are sailing together, to give the European Union a drown for the money.

French President Emmanuel Macron directly referred to Bejing's big purchases as a threat to the European front. “China won’t respect a continent, a power, when some member states let their doors freely open,” he said, according to Reuters.

So while it is certain that China is reaching its OBOR objectives comfortably, could it also be that the footholds are aided by what appears to be the post-Brexit landscape?

In lieu of the Theresa May's recent visit to China it seems that the UK is also eyeing a piece of the cake. May's first official visit rounded up with the announcement of agreements to open up the Chinese market for new financial services.

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May's international trade secretary, Liam Fox said the business delegation had signed £9 billion in new deals with the Chinese, though not all details have been made public. He also heralded the commitment to start a joint trade and investment review, exploring new trading partnerships which could eventually pave the way for free-trade talks.

During her visit to Beijing, May emphasised the beginning of "golden era" of UK-China relations and spoke about her country's vision in the aftermath of Brexit. She elaborated that her country's prospects would in-sync with developments outside of the European Union.

The evolution of new global trade links took precedence during the meetings and diplomatic exchanges.

The forecast of UK's divorce from the European Union is estimated to take place in March 2019 and China might be just in time to become the new caretaker geopolitical mediator as it has already created new investment avenues.



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