Chinese Belt And Road Lobbying In The European Union

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By Chris Devonshire-Ellis

China’s growth since 1992, when I first began working in the country has of course been remarkable. Most commented on are the changes in infrastructure, and especially the building boom – back in 1992 one of the tallest buildings in Shanghai was the Art Deco Park Hotel just off the old Racecourse, at 22 stories and 83 meters tall. But things were about to change – the Pearl of the Orient TV tower had already laid down its tripod legs and within three years was to become the then tallest building, at 468 meters. Others would follow, rendering pre-war Hotels like the Park and the Cathay beautiful, but small.

However infrastructure wasn’t the only change taking place. Early on in the life of Dezan Shira & Associates I had decided the firm needed to make contacts at Governmental level, and on a national basis. Every opportunity that came to attend meetings with Chinese Government officials I took. They were open, and keen to express their plans to open up and the opportunities for foreign investment​. Some were frankly bizarre, such as the U$2 million required to establish an Ostrich farm in Wuhan. But what was noticeable was that the Government itself began to change – officials who used to wear Mao suits and were devout veterans of the revolution, almost certainly with bloody hands, began to be replaced with a more pragmatic, more commercially aware, business-minded breed. Less revolutionary, and more assertive in dealing with foreigners. Today, Mao suits in China among officials are extremely rare except for various internal CCP events where recognition of the Founding Fathers is required.

At the same time, the Chinese footprint overseas has grown. China has invested significantly in its diplomatic services since 1992, an issue that no-one seems to have collectively tracked both in terms of the transition from old revolutionaries to modern pragmatism nor in the sheer volumes of diplomats. Yet the changes are profound and far reaching. China’s Embassies and Consulates worldwide are partially deployed as massive intelligence gathering machines, aided and abetted in part by the Confucius Institutes now prevalent in many Universities, where student thought can be harvested and opinions assessed. Collectively these are powerful tools and have elevated China to probably the most efficient diplomatic service in the world. That intelligence joins the dots between individuals in Government and beyond – who is who and who can influence who. This has paid dividends in China’s Belt & Road Initiative, where China has lobbied Governments for projects it wishes to win. Often China has hired professionally, recruiting paid individuals with close connections to do this work for them. A stipend is paid, followed by a results-based commission.

I wrote about this in a couple of articles, How Chinese Contractors Are Winning EU Infrastructure Projects and China Targets, Funds And Incentivizes Eastern Europe As Trade Potential Increases.

As a result, the good folk at the Epoch Times have followed up and produced their own research into the rise of Chinese diplomatic efforts in the EU in the article China’s Belt & Road Diplomatic Push Flies Under The Radar

I am extensively quoted as are Jakimow Malgorzata, assistant professor in East Asian Politics at Durham University and Secretary of the Centre for Contemporary Chinese Studies, Vitor Teixeita, EU advocacy officer for Transparency International, and Charles Parton, a former British diplomat to China and a senior associate for the Royal United Services Institute.

It’s a good article and summarizes in ways I may not always agree with, but certainly appreciate the soft power diplomatic developments that are part of contemporary China – and its Governmental support for the Belt & Road Initiative. While the colleagues that participate may or may not agree with the premise of the Belt & Road Initiative is one thing (two go as far as to say “it does not exist”) the telling quote I feel is that for every Brussels MEP there is, on average, one externally paid lobbyist. As Malgorzata stated, “Brussels is the most political city on earth.” Nearly all view the Belt & Road, and China, with an element of suspicion. To my mind, the choice is between one country -China – being highly efficient and organised, and the other candidate the version of the EU that lives in Brussels – being inefficient and chaotic. I have pointed this out in previous articles, mostly notably when I read the EU Commissions report “The European Union Connectivity Report On China” and helpfully produced an Asia Briefing map showing the extent of their coverage. The EU Commissions report on China connectivity didn’t actually include China.

My article about that can be read here. Don’t shoot the messenger – it is an example of EU failings when it comes both to China and the Belt & Road Initiative. It is arguably those failings and inability to understand what is happening within Eurasia that is hindering Brussels own capabilities and highlighting its shortcomings. While Brussels sees the Eurasian Economic Union as a Russian play, it has not yet taken on board Presidents Putin and Xi’s statements that the EAEU would become part of the Belt & Road. Meanwhile, Serbia, upset at Brussels interference with a proposed high-speed rail link between Belgrade and Budapest, and a candidate for EU membership, became so upset with Brussels it has opted to join the Eurasian Economic Union instead.

As the Epoch Times summarizes, “One thing is for sure: as Europe takes stock, and raise more questions over the OBOR, Beijing is certainly poised to influence the answers.”

The Epoch Times article can be read here 


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Silk Road Development Weekly is compiled each week by Chris Devonshire-Ellis, Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates. The firm has 28 offices throughout Eurasia and assists foreign investors into the region. For strategic advisory and business intelligence issues please contact the firm at or visit