AOf all places near Piraeus, Chancellor Olaf Scholz defended the entry of the Chinese state-owned company Cosco in the port of Hamburg on Thursday. During a visit to the government in Athens, he pointed out to the press that the Cosco group had only limited influence, since it was only supposed to have a minority stake in a terminal. On the other hand, the majority of the Chinese were allowed to buy Greece’s largest port in Piraeus. It is the most powerful Cosco base in Europe and a cornerstone of China’s global infrastructure expansion known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is a global “belt” of transportation routes and other transportation infrastructure.
The long-term Chinese have long since spread their influence to dozens of ports around the world. In Europe, they’ve mostly only managed to get hold of minority stakes, but that’s a foot in the door. In Asia, on the other hand, they spread more unchecked. But how do the various countries and their governments deal with the investments in detail? How have the ports developed with Chinese involvement? An overview shows that relations with China have cooled noticeably, as most governments sense the dangers emanating from Beijing. Germany’s green light for Cosco is therefore an opposite trend.
French ports are under considerable Chinese influence, although the dominance is not as great as in Piraeus and Zeebrugge. A key player is Terminal Link, a joint venture between Marseille-based logistics group CMA CGM and Hong Kong-based China Merchants Port Holdings. As early as 2013, the Chinese acquired 49 percent of the company – and thus stakes in ports such as Marseille and Dunkirk in the container business. The joint venture is involved in 21 locations worldwide. In Paris, people emphasize today that they have learned from the mistakes of the past. “We are no longer naive and we have efficient tools to defend our strategic sectors,” says the Ministry of Economy. “France has had bad experiences selling infrastructure to Chinese investors,” French Economics Minister Bruno Le Maire told the FAZ last week
At the airport in Toulouse, for example, Chinese investors only gave a short guest appearance. “We were unhappy with the way the Chinese pulled out of this investment after five years,” Le Maire said. Jonathan Holslag, China expert at the Free University of Brussels, believes that Beijing uses economic integration as a “lobby for a soft China policy”. But things are not always gentle: A few days ago, the Chinese authorities asked the Belgian foreign minister in a leaked document to retract statements critical of China. “Our companies are so dependent that a course correction becomes much more difficult than with Russia if you imagine a geopolitical shock,” warns Holslag, referring to the possible scenario of a Chinese war against Taiwan.