Belt and road strategy becoming known as Built and owed

Belt and Road Initiative investments in Europe seemed the only game in town until recently, but China’s money is now being treated with increasing suspicion, write Agnė Rakštytė and Jason Israel in Europe’s Edge.

In June 2015, telecommunications giant Huawei signed its first agreement in Europe to supply 5G connectivity to two universities in Brussels. It marked the beginning of what looked like Chinese domination of key European technology sectors.

Today, though, almost all European Union members have rejected Huawei in favor of alternatives. The final two holdouts — Portugal and Lithuania —  are following this trend as they auction their 5G spectrum. Lithuania even has passed legislation banning Huawei from participating in the auction.

The rejection underlines how China is losing ground in Europe, and in particular, in Central Europe, which it long targeted as a vulnerable gateway to the continent for its ambitious Belt and Road investment initiative (BRI.) In 2012, the Chinese Foreign Ministry established the 16+1 initiative to promote Chinese business and investment in 16 Central European countries. In 2019, Greece joined, creating the 17+1.

Lithuania is leading the resistance to China’s ambitions. Earlier this year, it withdrew from the 17+1 and followed up by allowing Taiwan to open a representative office. China responded by withdrawing its ambassador and cutting direct rail cargo links. It even threatened foreign investors in Lithuania that they were putting their operations in China at risk.

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