China’s influence and operating of the main European ports


The Chinese role and influence has expanded in all “NATO member states”, especially with the acceleration of the scope and number of giant Chinese projects in NATO countries, as the Chinese government and its companies implemented hundreds of projects in the Eurasia region within the framework of the “Belt and Road” initiative, which is launched by President “Xi Jinping” in 2013. We can highly recognize the Chinese expansion in the European and NATO’S member states, as follows:

The forms of the extensive Chinese encroachment ranged to participate, buy or rent an increasing number of (sea ports overlooking the Mediterranean), some of which are important ports and ports used by NATO. For example, China controls the famous “Greek port of Prius”. It also finances in the highway and railway projects between (the Balkan countries and Hungary).

China relatively dominates (the global maritime arena and the management and operation of global ports), the most 50 largest ports in the world, especially in Europe, there are Chinese investments. With regard to container ports, (five giant Chinese companies in the field of transport) control 18% of all container shipping activities operated by the 20 largest companies in the world, according to data issued by (Dury Company), a Chinese consulting company in the field of shipping.

In 2016, Beijing set up a national giant through (China merger of “China Ocean Shipping” and “China Shipping Company” to form “Chinese giant COSCO Shipping and Container Company”), and “COSCO China Container Company”, which is a huge trading group company that includes (seven branches of international subsidiaries) including (a shipping line bearing the same name, i.e. “COSCO” is known worldwide, a port operator), as well as many different commercial activities in the field of shipping.

We can notice that there are (three giant Chinese companies for shipping and containers globally), which are competing at the NATO’s member states and the world, and all of them are working in the field of port operation, and these companies, are:

  (“China Merchants Port Holdings” &  “Cosco Group” & “China Shipping Terminal Development”)

All of these giant Chinese shipping and container companies belong to the Chinese state, and even the (main three huge Chinese companies for shipping and containers, vigorously competing with the three major global dominant companies) for this industry of giant shipping ships and containers companies, such as:

  (“AP Moller Maersk of the Netherlands” & “BSA International of Singapore” & “Hutchison Ports Holdings of Hong Kong”)

The most amazing thing is China’s control of (the port of Long Beach in California), which is (the second largest container port in the United States of America). As the deal to acquire the “Long Beach Port” by the “Chinese Cosco Company”, through its subsidiary company in Hong Kong, was finally approved to this deal, the “COSCO Group” has become (the third largest shipping company in the world), and it has control over (Kaohsiung Port in southwest Taiwan, and the Port of Long Beach in California).

China has also started to operate its company (COSCO Shipping Ports), which is the main Chinese state-owned shipping company in the operation of the container port in “Piraeus Port” in Greece in 2008.  Since then, Chinese companies have expanded in the three largest ports in Europe, as it acquired a 35% stake in (Euromax Port in Rotterdam), and also acquired a 20% stake in (The Port of Antwerp in Belgium), and China also started actual planning for  (Construction of a terminal for Chinese containers and cargo ships in the port of Hamburg in Germany), according to what is circulated.

In Italy, Chinese state companies were allowed to manage or maintain stakes in Italian ports to expand exports between China and Italy, according to the announced agreement between them, and (the Italian port of Trieste), specifically is subject to intense interest from Beijing, as the giant Chinese company, called (China Communications Construction) manages some pilot projects in the port in northern Italy.

Another giant Chinese ship and container shipping company in the ports of NATO’s member states, called “China Merchants”. It is a Chinese state-owned company, headquartered in (Hong Kong), for negotiations with the Italian government to establish (a joint venture for the ship and container terminal between China and Italy in the Italian port of Trieste).

But, what is remarkable here, is the rejection of a number of Italian officials of that Chinese deal. The governor of the Veneto region “Luca Zaia”, as the region adjacent to “Trieste that administers Venice”, rejected the Italian-Chinese deal, as he described it in the Italian media by saying:

“The proposed Chinese deal to manage and operate the port of Trieste at Italy carries a new form of colonialism”

The importance of (the Italian port of Trieste for China) is due to Beijing from a strategic point of view because it will (connect the Mediterranean with landlocked countries), such as: (Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Serbia), all of which are markets that China hopes to reach them through its “Belt and Road Initiative”, and thus (the Italian port of Trieste) is the most important station for China in Europe on the Chinese Silk Road, and China plans to make it always open to Chinese investments.

The Italian government also agreed to (contract a deal between the Port Authority in the Italian port of Genoa and China), the giant Chinese shipping company, which known: “China Communications Construction Company”.

The assertions of (the head of the Italian port system authority in the western Ligurian Sea of ​​Italy), which is Paolo Emilio Signorini, the Italian authority that controls (the great Italian port of Genoa on the Mediterranean), confirmed that:

 “The Italian Ports Authority is working to create a company in partnership with the China Communications Construction Company to manage and operate the main Italian ports”

Perhaps because of the “American fear of Chinese expansion in Italian ports”, this prompted US former Secretary of State “Mike Pompeo” to visit both (Italy and the Vatican) at the end of September 2020, exactly weeks after the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister “Wang Yi” to  Italy and four other European countries.

Beijing has set its primary goal of investing in (four Italian ports) to be among its investments within the framework of the Chinese “Belt and Road Initiative”, especially after (Italy’s announcement as the first European country to join the Chinese initiative of the Belt and Road).  China has set its plan to expand its ownership in Italian ports as s part of the Belt and Road Initiative projects. In particular (two ports in the north of the Adriatic Sea of ​​Italy, namely the ports of “Tristi and Ravenna”), after the Italian and Chinese governments agreed within a Chinese plan to compete with the main European ports.

Chinese companies have succeeded in owning actual shares of (sea ports in Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Germany, thus becoming an important player in the field of European ports). It is estimated that (state-backed Chinese investors own at least 10% of the total shares of all ports in Europe).

The great success of the “Chinese Cosco Company” in the (acquisition of a terminal in the port of Trieste in northern Italy, and China’s acquisition of Zeebrugge port, which is the second largest port in Belgium), which represents the first real success of a Chinese trading company in Northwestern Europe.

China has also succeeded in (concluding deals with three of the largest European ports), which are:

  (Euromax port in Rotterdam in Netherlands, in which China owns 35% of its shares & Antwerp port in Belgium, of which China owns 20% & Hamburg port in Germany, in which China has built a new terminal for cargo ships and containers)

And the most dangerous thing here is that the United States of America imposed sanctions on (five companies affiliated with the giant Chinese shipping and container construction company), which is (China Communications Construction), as a giant Chinese company in August 2020, due to American accusations of the company’s involvement in the (militarization of the South China Sea), according to the US indictment against the giant Chinese shipping and container company.

   Through the researcher’s previous analysis of this Chinese presence in the depths of European ports, and the American fear of it by proposing alternative projects to control the “Chinese Belt and Road Initiative projects in Europe and NATO’S member states), notifying that there are many European states have challenged Washington and cooperated with China, so it became clear to us, that there are (American  and NATO’s recognition that there are increasing fears of the Chinese attempts aimed at expanding its influence in the  European Union ports), which are including as NATO’s member states as well, the European Union, led mainly by (France and Germany), have expressed their reservations about the Italian deal for the operation and management of its ports by Chinese companies, with NATO apprehensive about “the increasing Chinese direct influence on the strategic and important Italian ports on the Mediterranean”.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit


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