China is making its way to Europe – by sea. Beijing has taken the romantic folk memory of the Silk Road and transformed it into one of the biggest programmes of international investment in the modern world. Constructing and investing in new ports and terminals right along the maritime route to Europe serves the national vision about power and international influence articulated at the 19th Party Congress. But, as the authors of this new research reveal, China’s race to invest in the global blue economy also serves the domestic agenda of the powerful Xi Jinping as he continues to build up China’s strength.
In Blue China: Navigating the Maritime Silk Road to Europe, Mathieu Duchâtel and Alexandre Sheldon Duplaix argue that Europeans need to consider China’s investment in the maritime domain as a matter of grand strategy. The Maritime Silk Road is already affecting Europe in vital areas of interest like maritime trade, shipbuilding, and the global reach of the Chinese navy. The disconnected responses that have characterised Europe’s policy thus far should become a thing of the past.
Meanwhile, the emergence of the ‘Quad’ grouping of Australia, India, Japan, and the United States does not constitute an anti-China alliance – yet. But the time may come when Europe may be forced to give up ambiguity and choose a clear side in Indo-Pacific security competition.
“Europeans need to grasp now just how the Maritime Silk Road will extend China’s influence,” says Mathieu Duchâtel. “At the same time, Europe should look and learn from China’s considerable investment in ports, shipping, and naval power. European countries and the EU should encourage innovation in order to preserve a European niche of expertise in key sectors of the blue economy.”
The report makes four key recommendations.
- View the Maritime Silk Road not only as a matter of geopolitics but as part of a Chinese project to become a global leader in the blue economy;
- put in place an EU-wide investment-screening system;
- set a clear perimeter for engagement with the Chinese navy in the maritime domain;
- strengthen their contribution to maintaining a strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific region, upholding their vision of a rules-based maritime order.
Note to the editors
About the authors:
Mathieu Duchâtel is senior policy fellow and deputy director of the Asia and China programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He was previously a senior research fellow and the representative in Beijing of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute and a research fellow at Asia Centre, Paris. He works on China’s foreign and security policy.
Alexandre Sheldon-Duplaix is a researcher and has lectured at the Paris War College since 2001. He has written or co-written seven books, and previously worked as an analyst for the French Ministry of Defence from 1987 to 1999. In 1999, he transferred to the Navy Historical Service in Vincennes (which merged into the Defence Historical Service in 2005).