Vienna, Austria (PortSEurope) March 18, 2019 – President Xi Jinping of China is to pay state visits to Italy, Monaco, and France from March 21-26, 2019.
The visits come at a sensitive time regarding concerns in the European Union about Chinese acquisitions of European transport assets and pressure from the USA to prevent further European investment by the Chinese Huawei company in European 5G telecommunications networks.
It also comes at a time when the European Union (EU) has proposed new investment screening measures for foreign state-owned companies that want to purchase interests in European harbours.
Since the start of the 21st century, Chinese companies have acquired stakes in some 15 ports in Europe, that handle more than 10% of shipping containers traffic to and from the Old Continent, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
The state-owned COSCO Shipping Ports and China Merchants Port Holdings have acquired stakes in Port Said, Egypt; Casablanca and Tangier, Morocco; Marsaxlokk, Malta; Istanbul, Turkey; Piraeus, Greece; Bilbao and Valencia, Spain; Marseille, Nantes, Le Havre and Dunkirk, all France; Antwerp and Bruges, both Belgium, and Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
Chinese companies have participated in the construction and operation of 42 ports in 34 countries under its Belt and Road initiative launched in 2013. China has also signed 38 bilateral and regional maritime agreements covering 47 countries along the Belt and Road trade routes. The key strategy of COSCO and other Chinese companies is to invest in smaller European seaports and then try to develop them.
The new Silk Road (part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) also known as One Belt, One Road, or OBOR) is a Chinese economic strategy to seek better access for Chinese-made products in European markets, which includes acquiring stakes in ports and other transport facilities, and cooperation agreements with countries along the Silk Road routes.
After Rome, Xi Jinping will visit the Sicilian port and city of Palermo, where there have been talks of a significant Chinese investment in the cargo capacity of the port.
Additionally and of most concern, Beijing and Rome are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Italian participation in BRI.