Chinese Use Of Lobbyists To Win Belt & Road Influence And EU Construction Contracts
Op/Ed By Chris Devonshire-Ellis
We have commented on the use by China of lobbyists working on its behalf to gain influence and an upper hand when choosing to research, target and bid for contracts involving the EU and other trade blocs in the past. The article ‘How Chinese Contractors Are Winning EU Infrastructure Projects’ has certainly done the rounds in Brussels. Now, the Corporate Europe Observatory who position themselves as ‘exposing the power of corporate lobbying in the EU’ and as a ‘research and campaign group working to expose and challenge the privileged access and influence enjoyed by corporations and their lobby groups in EU policy making.’ has also taken up the issue. In their article ‘Follow The New Silk Road – China’s Growing Trail Of Think Tanks And Lobbyists In Europe’ they provide a thorough analysis of how China has been positioning itself in terms of gaining influence and traction. While the article is EU focused, one can imagine the global implications of an increasingly media-savvy China in promoting its activities on a world-wide scale. It does an excellent job, and as the article says, ‘Whether it’s what conflicts of interest your political representative is harbouring, which superpower gets to spy on you via your mobile phone, whether your city’s port is sold off and bought up, or who’s human rights are getting trampled on in the scramble for investment money, the public have every right to know who is lobbying who, why, and for how much. At the very least we need transparency on whether, and how, regimes such as China’s are lobbying European and national-level institutions, officials, and politicians. For that to happen the rules of the Transparency Register should explicitly demand that lobby consultancies, PR firms, lawyers, and think tanks paid to lobby the EU institutions on behalf of non-EU governments, are required to declare all such clients, with details of expenditure and the policy areas being lobbied on. This has been mandatory for decades in the US.’
The piece then goes on to mention specific lobby groups, think tanks and law firms that have connections with China. Its an interesting who’s who of China in Europe, although they do get their wires crossed when suggesting that Dezan Shira & Associates is paid by Chinese SEO’s to provide intelligence along the Belt & Road. I wish! No, we purely service foreign investors, whose legal and tax affairs when it comes to investing in China or Asia require a rather different set of skills than advising China’s SOE’s, which are always politicized and require deeply rooted political connections. Our firm doesn’t do Chinese (or any particular) politics, our focus has always been purely on commerce, with the politicking kept to a minimum. That doesn’t prevent us from seeing what’s going on however, and the attributed quote “China has been keeping far better intelligence about who is who and connecting the dots between politicians. It now has a far better idea of who can be useful and who not. Having ascertained a greater percentage of probability of success in identifying key lobbyists, it can afford to pay professional fees to such people.” is as true now as when I wrote it last year.
Other important firms, lobbyists and think tanks mentioned are China-EU a key lobbyist for Chinese interests in Europe. It’s a business lobby association based in Brussels, with an office in Beijing, that promotes “business cooperation between China and Europe”, and “top level public-private partnership for [Information and communication technology], linking the major Internet players, telecom operators and high tech companies from China and the EU together with high level officials and regulators from the European Institutions and the Chinese government”. The Friends of Europe are highlighted, whose annual Europe-China Forum is a landmark annual conference, as is the Silk Road Think Tank Network (esilks) a Beijing funded organization that also includes Chatham House, Elcano Royal Institute and the German Development Institute. Then there is the Fondation France Chine who partner with the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs and whose committees include current French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, ex-PM Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and Chinese luminaries such as Jack Ma. When China does lobbying, it doesn’t mess around.
Several other institutions are also mentioned, including the 16+1, the Brussels Academy For Chinese and European Studies, the Confucius Institute (who once stole over 100 articles from our China Briefing and China Expat websites and passed them off as their own before being caught) as well as direct lobby groups such as the mysterious Lobby Communication Advisory, and Cooperans. Huawei is also singled out for engaging in significant lobbying activities.
Overall its an excellent and well researched piece, and if you have interest in how China is apparently able to gain knowledge of, and then win infrastructure contracts on a global basis, and how the lobbying tentacles are spread and who is who among them, then the article is well worth a read. It also brings into focus the question of who is being paid by whom and how to promote Beijing’s ideals. Should a currently in situ French Prime Minister really have both the time, be paid for, or be able to provide an impartial view for the electorate of France when sitting on the committee of an organization part-funded by Beijing? This issue has serious implications for the EU, and the member states within it whose politicians receive expenses or fees for lobbying on behalf of China. Click here to access the entire piece.
Silk Road Briefing is produced by Dezan Shira & Associates. Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the practice Chairman. The firm has 26 years of China operations with offices throughout China, Asia and Europe. Please refer to our Belt & Road desk or visit our website at www.dezshira.com for further information.