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Europe makes room for Chinese investment, but not without concern

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But along with this potential lifeline comes risk, many economists and security analysts warn, if Europe becomes too beholden to China. Indeed, in exchange for investment, Beijing is seeking entry to big financial markets and access to technological know-how. It's also seen as coming to the Continent with an eye on gaining more geopolitical clout and possibly trying to preempt Europe's ability to react to China on all fronts – from human rights to trade disputes to the arms embargo the European Union still has in place.

"China wants to establish an alternative, a new order in which it dominates. The political move is to establish itself as a superpower alternative to the US," says Lawrence Sáez, a senior lecturer in comparative and international studies at the University of London and chair of the Centre of South Asian Studies.

More than a business exchange

Mr. Sáez says China's involvement in Europe could first lead to bringing down trade barriers. In Spain, for example, during Li's visit China's biggest oil refiner formalized a $7.1 billion stake purchase in the Brazilian operations of Spain's largest energy company, Repsol, which had for years rejected offers from Chinese and Russian companies.

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