China-Eu: sovereignty and connectivity

08 Aprile 2019 10.31
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The China – Italy memorandum of understanding

History and geography show that since 200 a.C. Roma was the final destination of Chinese silk, while Marco Polo landed in Venice in 1295 at the end of the journey along the silk road.

The Jesuit Matteo Ricci, “ Li Ma Tou Confucian scholar of the great West” of the XVII Century, is buried in the Shali’s garden in Beijing, the courtyard of the Chinese Communist Party School.

Not a surprise if the 21st New Silk Road evokes and renews the ancient link between Italy and China.
And if we remember that Italy, with Andreotti and de Michelis, was the first Western country to restore relationships with China after Tienanmen, we can better understand the positive attitude of China towards Italy .

Since 90s’ the Italy-China bilateral cooperation has developed through many programs, from the cooperation between Universities and Research Centers to joint industrial projects. Among the programs, I want to remember the Sino-Italian environmental cooperation, with more than 200 projects recognized by China as a model to design and implement the sustainable growth of the country.

The cooperation has been strengthened in 2010, “The Year of China in Italy”, during the visit of Chinese premier Wen Jiabao.

Even after all this, the results are lower in comparison with the major European countries, better focused on the national interests while Italy was not used to manage the added value of the cooperation with a “country’s system” approach.

The trade exchange numbers are clear : 45 billions Italy-China, far from Germany (180 bl.), United Kingdom (80 bl.) France (55 bl.).

While Duisburg, in Germany is the first Silk Road Economic Belt Terminal: since 2011 thousands of trains carry the goods from China to Europe.

These figures, as well as highlight the differences in the Europe’s economies show also that individual Member States are managing the relationship with China in random order.

In this context, the participation of the Italian Premier Paolo Gentiloni – the sole representative of G7- at the 2017 “Belt and Road Initiative” Forum was the political and diplomatic signal of the national will to become a main partner of China and the gateway to Europe of the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, to bridge the gap with the major European countries.

The Memorandum of Understanding signed on March 23 by the Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte is the expected follow up of the Italian initiative to build the next steps of the bilateral cooperation with China in the framework of BRI, the strategic platform to improve connectivity between Asia, Europe and Africa.

Bri is going on Europe, without Eu

The signature of Memorandum is the last piece of the European “usual” random order approach to China.

We should therefore not ask the question if the signature of Memorandum by Italy is a mistake.

We must ask ourselves if the European Union should continue to be “the notary”, or whether Europe should take on a different role in the cooperation with China.
Five years after BRI was launched,

• Europe is a prime investment destination for BRI, according to bilateral agreements 
between China and the individual countries;

• Since 2015, 20 Member States – including the 4 G7 – are members of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), one of the financing arms of Belt and Road Initiative;

• 13 EU Member States endorsed BRI and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China;

• Since 2012 China and 16 Central Eastern European Countries (11 EU) are working together for the development of BRI in the “geographical ring” that connects Asia with Europe. The next “16+1 Summit” will be enlarged to Greece.

Meanwhile, despite the progress in negotiations on principles and rules of the cooperation with China, in the framework of EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation (2013) and EU-China Connectivity Platform (2015), in the last five years EU mostly took note of the initiatives of individual countries without driving the 
process.
Namely, the Member States chosen the random order rather than a common European approach to China, partly because the complex European decision process doesn’t make easy to meet the timing and the “windows” of the competition in the global economy. 
prevent from consolidating a long term vision of a comprehensive strategic partnership, threaten the credibility of Europe as equal partner of China, undermine the effectiveness of the China-Europe joint efforts to address the global challenges and commitments in the framework of multilateral agreements (global sustainable development and Agenda 2030, climate change, energy security, 
fight against poverty).

A quantum leap of Eu

Considering the increasing competition of US and China in the context of the rising vulnerability of the global economy and of the expected recession in the next couple of years, without a strong EU framework of policies, measures and speed of implementation, the random order in cooperation and business with China will bring less and less benefits to the individual countries.

It’s quite clear, for instance, that the effectiveness of the Memorandum signed by Italy, largely depends on the integration and connectivity of Italy in Europe.

In this context, the risk of cutting up piece by piece European technology excellences by the competing China and US interests and companies is increasing.

With the U.S. and China increasingly competing rather than cooperating”, German economy minister Peter Altmaier recently said , “Europe – and Germany in particular – is being relegated to the status of passive observer. If key technological competencies and, as a result, our position in the global economy were to be lost, this would have dramatic consequences for our way of life, for the capacity of the state to act and for its ability to shape almost all policy areas”.

The “EU-China – A strategic outlook“, released by the European Commission last March 12, is the framework of the policies and actions to be implemented in Europe and jointly with China. :
All right, but not enough.

A “quantum leap” is necessary from the consolidated business and usual procedures: EU should take the decision to be the equal partner of China in BRI, the “Western side” of Europe-Africa-Asia flow. In other words, BRI should be a project of EU as well of China.

This is the key to drive the ongoing process, as well as to negotiate with China the necessary openness, interoperability, transparency, and sustainability based on high environmental and social standards.
In this context, the EU Commission recommendation to ensure a high level of cybersecurity of 5G networks, released last March 26, is the right infrastructure for the measures to strengthen the open market rather than bans also in the context of BRI.

In parallel it is necessary to set up and support in effective and timely way the necessary synergies in the creation of European champions in the technologies and sectors particularly exposed to global competition : low carbon energy production and services, global energy interconnection, sustainable transport and mobility, safe food production, artificial intelligence, digital economy. The aim is to create European champions able to be competitors and partners of the biggest Chinese and US companies, including – as Peter Altmaier underlines – changes to antitrust rules : the European internal opposition to Alstom-Siemens is a big mistake.

Unity, sovereignty and connectivity

All this is an uphill task.

With the U.S. and China increasingly competing rather than cooperating”, German economy minister Peter Altmaier recently said , “Europe – and Germany in particular – is being relegated to the status of passive observer. If key technological competencies and, as a result, our position in the global economy were to be lost, this would have dramatic consequences for our way of life, for the capacity of the state to act and for its ability to shape almost all policy areas”.

But this is a priority to keep the European sovereignty and to compete in the global economy, building a platform to connect and to drive the planet towards the sustainability .
We have to persuade China, US and the other major economies that the unity, the sovereignty and the connectivity of Europe is a value for all.

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