ChinaNovember 12 2022, 10:08 am

Concerns Growing Over Chinese Investments in European Ports- Experts Warn of Potential Impact on EU Foreign Policy

Hong Kong media is report­ing that Chi­na has object­ed to remarks by the Bel­gian For­eign Min­is­ter in which she expressed con­cern about Chi­nese minor­i­ty stakes in two Bel­gian ports. Accord­ing to the South Chi­na Morn­ing Post report, For­eign Min­is­ter Had­ja Lah­bib was respond­ing to a new aca­d­e­m­ic report titled “Every Ship a War­ship,” which raised con­cerns about the “grow­ing politi­ci­sa­tion and mil­i­tari­sa­tion of Chi­na’s civil­ian mar­itime sector:”

Octo­ber 31 ‚2022 Ear­li­er this month, Bel­gian offi­cials were vis­it­ed by furi­ous Chi­nese diplo­mats who warned that neg­a­tive com­ments from the country’s for­eign min­is­ter could jeop­ar­dise bilat­er­al trade. They demand­ed that For­eign Min­is­ter Had­ja Lah­bib retract inter­views she had giv­en to local media, in which she described Bei­jing as “a poten­tial ene­my”, accord­ing to a diplo­mat­ic cable seen by the South Chi­na Morn­ing Post. Lah­bib had been asked about an aca­d­e­m­ic report on Chi­nese invest­ments in Bel­gian port infra­struc­ture, titled “Every Ship a War­ship”. The report, writ­ten by Brus­sels-based aca­d­e­m­ic Jonathan Hol­slag, raised alarm about the “grow­ing politi­ci­sa­tion and mil­i­tari­sa­tion of China’s civil­ian mar­itime sec­tor”. State-owned Chi­na Ocean Ship­ping Com­pa­ny, bet­ter known as Cosco, owns minor­i­ty stakes in the Antwerp and Zee­brugge ports on the North Sea coast, a fact that Lah­bib said she was uncom­fort­able with. “I believe above all that in the cur­rent con­text, our eyes are turned to Chi­na, which is a part­ner, a rival and a poten­tial ene­my,” Lah­bib said. “Civil­ian ships are being mod­i­fied to poten­tial­ly become mil­i­tary ships. We have to think about it and be very care­ful.” Ger­many backs port bid by China’s Cosco ship­ping despite secu­ri­ty warn­ings 26 Oct 2022 Her com­ments struck a nerve. Wu Gang, min­is­ter-coun­sel­lor at the Chi­nese embassy in Bel­gium, demand­ed a meet­ing with Belgium’s top offi­cial for Asia. At a meet­ing on Octo­ber 14, accord­ing to the cable, Wu warned that the min­is­ter “must be care­ful not to lis­ten to irre­spon­si­ble aca­d­e­mics who ped­dle base­less rumours to harm Chi­na”. “Mar­itime trade and eco­nom­ic activ­i­ty between our ports is a lucra­tive activ­i­ty for Bel­gium which must be respect­ed if it intends to con­tin­ue,” said Wu, accord­ing to the cable.

The report goes on to note that the Bel­gian con­tro­ver­sy arose the same week that Ger­many had approved a minor­i­ty stake for Cosco in a Ham­burg port and that experts were warn­ing about the poten­tial “dilu­tion of EU for­eign pol­i­cy” as a result of these Chi­nese investments:

The inci­dent, first report­ed in Bel­gian media, has added fuel to a fiery debate in Europe about Chi­nese invest­ments in crit­i­cal mar­itime infra­struc­ture. The cable was leaked in the same week that Ger­many approved a 24.9 per cent Cosco invest­ment in its busiest con­tain­er port ter­mi­nal in Ham­burg – despite warn­ings from six min­istries and the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion that it could be a nation­al secu­ri­ty risk. Defend­ers of the deal point to the reduced own­er­ship stake Cosco was per­mit­ted to take. At less than 25 per cent, Ger­man cor­po­rate law dic­tates that it can have no vot­ing rights. But experts are warn­ing that the company’s efforts to assem­ble such assets around Europe makes gov­ern­ments less will­ing to speak out against Chi­na when nec­es­sary, with the cumu­la­tive impact being a dilu­tion of EU for­eign policy.

Read the rest here.

Accord­ing to US media, Cosco already owns stakes in oth­er crit­i­cal Euro­pean infrastructure:

Cosco already owns stakes in Europe’s two largest ports at Rot­ter­dam and Antwerp, while it also con­trols the port of Piraeus in Athens and is behind a scheme to expand an inland rail ter­mi­nal at Duis­burg where the Ruhr and the Rhine rivers meet and which is a mmajor­for over­land freight arriv­ing from China.


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