When a giant Chinese container closed the Suez Canal for a week and jeopardized the global distribution chain, exporting and importing countries realized that they had waterways and seaports, as well as controlling canals that thousands of ships pass through; what is their strategic importance? We did not notice that the Suez Canal alone would shorten the sea route from Asia to Europe by 6,000 kilometers, disrupting its order by causing hundreds of billions of damages and disrupting the global distribution network; which could lead to the bankruptcy of some large insurance companies or small traders while increasing the price of goods worldwide.
The European and American conception of the Belt and Road was something faster than the transport of goods by mule and camel.
The sea and navy play an irreplaceable geostrategic role for major exporting countries in world trade. But in the speed and security of world trade and modern and advanced ports, the importance of global waterways and ports gradually diminished in the minds of the world.
European governments, as the discoverers of modern technology of dominating the seas and the establishing the world business on it, have not had a proper assessment of the risks and side effects of what might happen to future shipping lines since the late 1990s; And put their ports up for auction; In contrast, the Chinese built and purchased a variety of small and large ports along the Silk Road in Europe, and have been obsessive over the past three decades.
At first, for some economists and maritime transport experts, China’s actions had no economic justification. But the Chinese were looking to the future, consciously thinking about its military, geo-strategic, and geo-economics advantages by building these ports and bridges. When Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the massive “Belt-Road” plan in 2013, Europeans were unaware of the plan’s main intentions and saw it as a marketing and advertising ploy. But they did not know that the ancient Silk Road, which took silk and spices to Europe with herds of camels from deserts and deserts and plains of various Asian countries, is now supposed to be the Silk Road and rail, with giant ships and thousands of kilometers of lanes. Iron to transport large quantities of cheap Chinese goods around the world. Initially, the European and American conception of the belt-road was a costly and economically unjustified route that could not be a serious competitor to Western goods. The project was something faster than transporting goods by mule and camel.
Today, the Chinese have an effective stake in most ports and shipping companies. Chinese state-owned shipping company Cosco is aiming to become the world’s leading maritime transport company alone or with the participation of governments.
Cosco, with its subsidiary China Merchant, now owns shares in 14 European ports, from Rotterdam and Antwerp to Le Havre, Bilbao, Valencia, Marseille and Malta, and owns several terminals in each of these thriving ports.
At the beginning of the third millennium, the ancient Greek port of Piraeus, dubbed the “pearl of the Mediterranean”, plunged into a severe recession and was on the verge of complete closure. Five years before the Chinese president announced a one-lane-one-road plan globally, Cosco arrived and in 2008 offered € 500 million to buy both of the port’s container terminals. But EU internal regulations prevented the proposal from becoming operational. Interestingly, in 2016, the European Union, under the pressure of recession, was forced to announce a plan to privatize all ports in continental Europe. It was here that the Chinese company Cosco acquired both terminals without a competitor for a low price of 280 million euros. French President Emmanuel Macron reacted to this historic divergence by saying that the Chinese should not be blamed for being smart, we are to blame for being so stupid. In such a situation, the Europeans feel that they have handed over one of their pillars of sovereignty in the ports and seas to the Chinese with an auction hammer.
The port of Piraeus, the fourth largest commercial port and the largest passenger port in Europe that the Greeks were proud of, was leased to the Chinese shipping giant Cosco, the world’s third largest container shipping company. The Chinese company is now one of the main shareholders in the large Greek port, which manages its affairs in the first place.
Today, Piraeus is the fourth largest port in Europe after Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg, and no ships can enter or leave the port without Chinese permission. In fact, this port is the end point of the Maritime Silk Road, which starts from China and joins the Red Sea through the Indian Ocean, then crosses the narrow Suez Canal and then enters the Mediterranean waters. And Europe is connected.
The United States and Europe are now trying to limit the influence of the modern Chinese empire on roads, railways, and seas. Although the United States is still the world’s number one power, it is rapidly being pushed back by China. A quick look at China’s current state of development shows that it is home to one of the world’s top 500 companies, and only the United States is ahead of China in this regard; which will leave this to the Chinese in the next few years.
The fact is that the rich Chinese have been buying and owning whatever they want and can in continental Europe for a long time. Their acquisition has so far included technology companies, banks, financial and credit institutions and infrastructure facilities such as ports and power grids. On the other hand, the powerful European economic bloc has become increasingly dependent on Chinese markets and goods, and now on its shipping lines.
The European Union as a whole has interpreted or justified the invasion of tens of billions of Chinese in the “Belt-Road” project and has surrendered to its consequences; This “strategic link between Asia and Europe” is also a huge economic and trade opportunity for Europe. The Europeans, led by Germany, know that they have no choice but to cooperate and co-invest with the Chinese in the construction of roads, railways, ports, power lines and digital networks. Germany’s huge industries, especially the carmaker without the Chinese market, are forced to lay off large numbers of workers and suffer unpredictable consequences in the country’s political and social spheres. For this reason, geo-economic Europe and European trading countries are forced to appease China’s political and economic plans.
On the other hand, the Americans, who have always benefited from Asia and Europe and won the wars and crises of these two continents, with the least cost and casualties, have left the affairs and interests in these two continents to Chinese companies.
On the other hand, improving China’s relations with Russia and Iran, two of America’s fiercest rivals in Asia and Europe, which is experiencing a growing trend, could connect the waters and ports of southern and northern Iran in large sea areas to China and Russia. A place of interaction and strategic cooperation with any capitalist and powerful country from China, India, Russia and Europe in the field of trade and investment.
China is now a big question for Washington. How powerful American capitalism will accept the decline of power and the loss of its strategic reserves in the world without creating a crisis or war with China.
BY: Alfonso Gomez Delacroz