Since the election of Donald Trump, the European Union has been hoping to see in China a partner that could help maintaining the world order. But slowly, Europe is losing hope. Ignoring both European values and principles such as reciprocity, Chinese investments are spelling trouble among European member states that are nevertheless constrained to turn a blind eye on European values. Worse, Chinese investments are creating discord among EU states, which slows down the creation of a common legislation and strategy towards China. China seems to benefits from these divisions as well as from the rise of populist leaders, who seem to open their doors to Chinese investments.
Chinese investments: what’s wrong with that?
One of the first issue of Chinese investments in Europe is the lack of reciprocity: while Chinese investors enjoy the same rights as any European business company, European investments are restricted in China through restrictions at market entry but also formal and informal discriminations post-market entry.
Another issue is the non-commitment by China to respect European values and norms. Sustainable development, human rights, rule of law and relationship with Taiwan are as many causes that make European think twice before opening to Chinese investments.
Finally, the acquisition of assets abroad would be a way for China to obtain technologies, know-how and skills, which threatens European sectors (such as automotive industry, technology, development, innovation) and status as one of the most innovating region in the world.
Europe’s position of weakness creates division among member-states
European member-states are constrained to accept Chinese investments and to turn a blind eye on European values. States such as Germany and the UK because they want to maintain their access to the Chinese market and states such as Greece, Portugal and Spain because they depend financially on Chinese investments.
Despite this fact, Chinese investments create division among states that disagree on the legislation to adopt. Germany for example sees Portugal as a country that could potentially block a legislation that would disadvantage China. According to Portugal, it is because Berlin refused fiscal transfer within EU that they are depending on Chinese investments.
Populism: making easier Chinese investments?
If populism keeps spreading throughout Europe, Chinese investments are likely to continue. This is the case in Czech Republic for instance. Before [VG1] 2013, the country was very strict on Chinese investments. But with the arrival of Milos Zeman, things changed radically and a strategic partnership was signed with China which promised in return to invest billion in the country.
Czech Republic is not the only one to open its doors to China, the Belgium populist Bart de Wever and the Hungarian leader Viktor Orban seem to be with in line with China’s strategy.
Between “America first” and a restless Russia, the position of Europe towards China is tricky. One the one hand, European depends on Chinese investments, on the other hand, Europe refuses to leave its technologies and values to the hands of the second largest economy. Nevertheless, it seems that the European “manifest destiny” will fail this time, creating more and more chaos among member-states if they do not agree on a common strategy on China.