How does Confucianism affect China?

"Europe needs an answer to the Silk Road"

Deutsche Welle: China has been building the new Silk Road, the so-called "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI), for five years. According to the company, a total of around one trillion dollars will be invested worldwide in infrastructure in order to expand trade routes and thus further stimulate the economy in China. One end of the Silk Road is currently in Europe. The People's Republic also invests in countries such as Hungary, Greece and on the periphery of the EU in Montenegro or Serbia. Is there anything the EU has against this?

Moritz Rudolf: I think that the EU has slept a long time and is now slowly waking up. It was thought that one could rely on tried and tested means. They have now moved away from that and are working on a concrete response to the Silk Road initiative, which is also based on infrastructure investments.

But what speaks against the Silk Road project from a European initiative?

I think if it is only about infrastructure expansion now, then objectively it is a good thing. But that is only one aspect of the initiative. It is also about - and this is stated in some official BRI documents - that China "wants to set global standards by which the world can orient itself." On this point it can be said that Europe is facing at least one major challenge.

How does China set its own standards?

Most of the infrastructure projects that China is realizing with the various countries also have a clause built in: If there are disputes, Chinese law will apply. With the Silk Road Initiative, I end up with economic projects that take place entirely on Chinese terms, mostly with Chinese companies, Chinese workers under Chinese law and, in the event of a dispute, also before a Chinese arbitration tribunal. And all of this on our doorstep. The expansion of Chinese arbitration courts is currently the focus of the initiative. However, this step is not entirely unusual. Countries do that when they become more powerful, and China is now doing it with great self-confidence.

Is China also trying to fill the world with new values ​​through the Silk Road Initiative?

Ethical standards have a huge impact on the Silk Road Initiative. And they are partly in contradiction to the liberal values ​​and ideas in the West. The People's Republic is an authoritarian state and accordingly has a different view of the world. For example, there is the relationship between individual human rights and collectivist human rights. What is the goal? Should the individual citizen play a central role? Or is it about the "right to development" as the primary goal? And the Chinese answer is simple: development should be at the center of the Chinese vision of globalization - individual human rights play a subordinate role and are not addressed in the official documents or by the Chinese government. This is in contrast to the European model. In addition, the Chinese government has recently started to speak of wanting to spread "Chinese wisdom" and experiences to the world.

How important is Europe for this "project of the century", as the Chinese government calls the Silk Road Initiative?

The government's "Made in China 2025" strategy can be subsumed under the Silk Road Initiative. Among other things, the term denotes the goal that China would like to bring added value in the high-tech area into its own country in order to export the technological standards to the world in the medium term and to set global standards. The Silk Road is a catalyst to move that forward. Now there are internal Chinese documents that prove that they no longer want to use the term "Made in China 2025" because they know that it has led to resentment in Europe. What I mean by that: The Chinese know that they need the Europeans. But you still have massive problems convincing many European countries and above all the European Union of the initiative.

Greece's largest port in Piraeus is now owned by the Chinese shipping company COSCO

Still, isn't it quite obvious that the Silk Road initiative creates massive competition for European companies?

The Chinese competitors for German and European companies naturally have immense backing from the state. The interests of the Chinese state and Chinese companies - and these are often state-owned companies - are similar and are promoted together. This interaction is not so pronounced in Europe and that of course makes it all the more difficult for European companies to counteract it. There is also criticism in Europe that the public tendering rules for Silk Road projects in third countries discriminate against European companies and do not comply with European transparency standards.

In a document that the "Handelsblatt" reported in April, 27 EU countries criticized China with relatively clear words. The Silk Road initiative "runs counter to the EU agenda for trade liberalization and shifts the balance of power in favor of subsidized Chinese companies". What has arrived from this criticism?

People in China are aware that it is very difficult to convince the European states of this initiative. It would actually be a jackpot for the Chinese if they had Europe with them. But the Chinese side does not want to go along with the European requirements in the area of ​​transparency and sustainability. At the moment it is not possible to come up with a common basis with which both the European side and the Chinese side in third countries could work together.

Couldn't the Chinese say, "Well, let's just give a damn about the Europeans on our Silk Road project"?

They are saying that more and more often and more confidently, but I don't think they can yet and actually the government knows that too. The Chinese soft power and the Chinese standards are simply not far enough for that. I think it's too early. From a Chinese perspective, it would be better now to have the Europeans on board. In a few years, you could go it alone.

Do you see the danger that investments will try to gain political influence in the EU?

In Montenegro, the relationship of dependency on China is already very high. Hungary is also a country that cleverly exploits the Silk Road initiative and pits the EU and China off against each other. In the last year, Greece - unlike all other EU states - did not criticize the Chinese human rights standards in the UN Human Rights Council. We know how big the Chinese investments are in the port of Piraeus. European states have to weigh up between EU values ​​and China's investments, and this often leads to people thinking carefully about how to express themselves publicly about China.

China expert Moritz Rudolf

As part of the 16 + 1 mechanism, China is also negotiating investments with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Could China try to divide Europe in this way?

I don't think the Chinese are deliberately trying to split the EU so that the EU is weak. The EU member states are already doing this themselves. Beijing is of course taking advantage of Europe's weakness to drive the initiative forward. But I think it would be of greater benefit to the Chinese leadership to compromise with Brussels. But I'm very skeptical about that at the moment. However, Europe needs a coordinated European response to the Silk Road in order to meet the initiative on an equal footing. After five years of the Silk Road Initiative, this is sorely needed.

The interview was conducted by Nicolas Martin.

Moritz Rudolf studied law and economics in Germany and China. After several years at the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics) in Berlin, he founded the consulting company Eurasia Bridges. He wants to act as a neutral mediator of knowledge between China and Europe and provides advice, among other things. Companies in China and Europe so that they can benefit from the Silk Road Initiative in Europe, China and third countries.