Report: China’s Expanding Influence in Europe

On May 20th, the JASON Institute organized a webinar on China’s growing influence in Europe. The event focused on China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a mechanism through which China aims to expand its influence in Europe. Both the physical BRI and the Digital Silk Road were discussed during the webinar. 

We were delighted to welcome two experts who could share their views on this topic: Dr. Matt Ferchen and Ms. Brigitte Dekker. Dr. Ferchen coordinates the research of the Foreign Relations team at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, and is specialized in the relationship between economic development and security in China’s foreign policy. Ms. Dekker is a Junior Researcher at the Clingendael Institute, where she researches EU-Asia relations and the implications of the Digital Silk Road.

Dr. Matt Ferchen’s contribution consisted of two main elements. Firstly, Dr. Ferchen aimed to point out that the BRI’s main focus is on regions such as Asia, Africa, and Latin-America, where China wants to promote its identity as a leader of the developing world. Still, infrastructure projects related to the BRI can also be found in the Balkan region and Eastern Europe, for example. Moreover, Dr. Ferchen highlighted that Europe has been advancing its own strategy for connectivity in response to the BRI, in cooperation with partners such as the United States and Japan. During the second part of his presentation, Dr. Ferchen argued for a more nuanced understanding of the term ‘economic influence’. He argued that ‘economic influence’ has many faces and ended with a word of caution for those interested in China’s economic influence: China’s economic growth does not necessarily translate into economic influence. The fact that China has a plan such as the BRI does not mean it is able to carry it out effectively.

Ms. Brigitte Dekker gave an insightful presentation about the development of the Digital Silk Road (DSR) and its implications for Europe. She first highlighted the technicalities of the ‘China Standards 2035’ – a blueprint that sets the global standards for the next generation of technologies. Ms. Dekker then pointed out the DSR’s normative dimension, by examining Beijing’s push for digital sovereignty through the elaboration of their cybersecurity law. She argued that as a result, the European Union and its member states will have to act on the DSR’s economic and normative challenges. The implementation of the DSR into Europe will warrant closer scrutiny due to the fact that European standards and ideas about digital sovereignty, free-flow of data, and individual privacy differ greatly from Chinese expectations. 

Both Ms. Dekker and Dr. Ferchen contributed to the broad and complex conversation surrounding China’s expanding global influence. By focusing their presentations on the impact that the Belt and Road Initiative has on Europe, our guest speakers have shed light on the economic and digital challenges that this new alliance will pose. Although much more is still left to be said and discussed, this webinar has allowed for the economic and digital concepts and activities of the BRI to be portrayed. 

We would like to thank Ms. Brigitte Dekker and Dr. Matt Ferchen for taking the time to take us through their expertise in the matter, and for providing us with insightful knowledge. We would also like to thank our two hosts, Maaike Stroeks and Steijn Muller for hosting this JASON event. Lastly, we would like to thank our audience for their participation and contribution to the conversation through their intriguing questions. 

Watch the webinar here:

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