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OnderzoekCentre for East Asian Studies Groningen

Workshop CEASG/GCI ‘One Belt One Road: China's pivot towards Europe?'

Wanneer:ma 12-09-2016
Waar:Old Court Room, Oude Boteringestraat, Groningen

To register for this workshop, please send an email to

During a state visit to Kazakhstan in September 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed a “Silk Road Economic Belt” across the Eurasian continent to facilitate economic cooperation. Less than a month later in Indonesia he added the idea of a “Maritime Silk Road of the 21st century” to connect China to South East Asia and beyond. Packaged together as the “One Belt, One Road” initiative (OBOR), the two projects have become cornerstones of Chinese foreign policy in the Xi Jinping era with a focus on economic cooperation, investment in infrastructure and, as a corollary, friendly political relations. Another Chinese initiative, the founding of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in 2015, is often considered the institutional incarnation of OBOR, with a membership base ranging from East Asia to Western Europe.

Naturally the potential for enhanced trade and investment flows, infrastructure development in underdeveloped regions, and more dynamic growth in general have made OBOR an attractive and widely debated initiative. In addition to the economic dimension, it has also been read as the most concrete expression so far of China’s rise, its new-found self-confidence and its desire to shape international affairs in accordance with its own ideas and interests. In this understanding OBOR carries political significance as an instrument to strengthen Chinese influence in the participating countries and regions. From a geopolitical perspective it can be interpreted as a reaction to the US “pivot to Asia” or an effort at balancing against the US while grooming other power centres for a future multi-polar world.

Although President Xi chose to launch OBOR on visits to Asian states, the project is of great importance to states in Europe and the European Union (EU). After all, seen from China, the endpoint of a Eurasian “Belt” are the member states of the EU, and the extensions of the “Maritime Silk Road” to South Asia, the Arabic peninsula, East Africa and the Mediterranean have also brought it to the doorsteps of the European integration scheme. To some extent the effects for Europe are already tangible with Chinese participation in the European investment fund launched Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, separate cooperation initiatives like the “16+1” scheme involving China and several Central Eastern European states, and also concrete projects like the growing Chinese investment in the Greek port of Piraeus.

In light of all this, the purpose of this workshop will be to critically assess the impact, opportunities and difficulties of the OBOR initiative for China-EU relations, both from economic and a political perspectives. Concretely, contributions will address the following questions and issues:

  • What place do the EU and its member occupy in OBOR from the Chinese perspective?
  • Concretely, what projects are Chinese priorities with regard to the EU in the context of OBOR?
  • What opportunities does OBOR offer for the EU and its member states?
  • What are the stumbling blocks, if any, that keep the EU and its member states from fully participating in the initiative?
  • More specifically, what are the implications for the Netherlands and its foreign policy?
  • Is there any risk for the EU of succumbing to a “divide-and-rule” strategy on the part of China?
  • What ideas of governance are behind the OBOR initiative (and the AIIB), and how do they match Chinese and European preferences?
  • What is the role of the US vis-à-vis OBOR, and how does this affect China-EU cooperation in this context?
  • How can China and the EU manage areas of tension or conflicts (Middle East, South China Sea) along the “Belt” and the “Road”?

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