Andy Owen

The EU’s naive response to China’s Belt and Road initiative

A shipment of Chinese Covid vaccines arrives in Zimbabwe (Getty images)

Britain’s top spy chief Richard Moore warned this week of the growing threat that China poses to the West. Besides the risk of cyber-warfare, the Communist country has been pumping huge sums across the globe as part of its Belt and Road strategy. Now, the EU has hit back: announcing a rival to the initiative to counter Chinese influence in Africa and elsewhere. Brussels’ ‘Global Gateway’ looks at how the EU can leverage billions of euros, taken from member states, financial institutions and elsewhere, to rival the Belt and Road initiative. Unfortunately, it’s too little, too late.

During the years I spent working in Africa, I saw first-hand how widespread and all-encompassing China’s Belt and Road initiative is. Over one million Chinese citizens have migrated to Africa over the last two decades. This large-scale movement of people has increased Chinese political and economic influence and has been encouraged by Beijing.

Cameroon’s commercial capital, Douala, shows the impact of this mass migration: the city’s ‘Great China Market’ has grown from a handful of Chinese stalls in the late 1990s to a network of thousands of traders. This is far from the only sign of Chinese influence on the continent: everywhere in Africa, the red petal logo of the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei can be seen. I travelled through new airport terminals funded by Chinese loans and built by Chinese companies. One evening, sitting by the side of a swimming pool in Ethiopia, I spoke to an aid worker whose flight from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had been filled with Chinese passengers, most of them connected to the mining industry. The DRC, whose natural resources were a source of Cold War competition, is now the centre of global cobalt production. Last year, 70 per cent of the world’s cobalt came from the DRC.

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Written by
Andy Owen
Andy Owen is a former intelligence officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is the author of All Soldiers Run Away: Alano’s War — The Story of a British Deserter.

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