Jonathan Holslag, the Brussels policy analyst who has so far written mostly on Africa, has published an opinion piece in the Financial Times on China’s investments in Eastern Europe (thanks to fellow members of Minjian International for forwarding it), in which he concludes that “if the European Union does not get its house in order, it risks losing political clout on its own doorstep.” He cites the following developments:
This month the Greek government announced a multibillion-dollar investment agreement through which the Chinese will construct new container terminals and airports and participate in shipbuilding. Several Chinese companies have signed up to a special economic zone in Sofia. … The China Development Bank pledged generous support for developing Romania’s wind power. A leading contractor promised to build a new thermoelectric power plant, a project that might cost as much as €1bn (£800m, $1.2bn). Other companies are exploring investment in the country’s agricultural and mining sector.
The special economic zone in Sofia is an interesting development, as — if it materializes — it would be the first instance of exporting China’s “special zone” model beyond Africa (unofficial Chinese-invested “special zones” exist also in Southeast Asia). Chinese companies are already involved in constructing hydropower plants in Albania. Eastern Europe is also interesting because it was the first region to encounter the new Chinese entrepreneurial migration — beginning in the late 1980s — that later spread to Africa, South America and other places. The entrepreneurial model, which was based on identifying an empty niche in low-price consumer goods and setting up networks of “Chinese markets” and “Chinese shops”, was first developed in Eastern Europe and then replicated in other regions.