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Background Increasing influence How China is entering Europe’s ports Piraeus, Rotterdam, Antwerp and soon possibly Hamburg as well – China has its own terminals in 14 European ports or holds shares in port operators. Critics warn of the consequences of the urge to expand. From Lothar Gries.


Container Terminal Tollerort (CTT) of Hamburg Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA). | picture alliance / ZB background

Increasing influence How China is entering Europe’s ports

Status: 10.06.2021 12:33 p.m.

Piraeus, Rotterdam, Antwerp and soon possibly also Hamburg – China has its own terminals in 14 European ports or holds shares in port operators. Critics warn of the consequences of the urge to expand. From Lothar Gries, tagesschau.de The listed Hamburg port operator HHLA is currently negotiating with the Chinese state shipping company Cosco about a possible participation in one of its container terminals – with the telling name of Tollerort. HHLA recently announced that a legally binding agreement has not yet been reached. However, the publication of such a release indicates that the talks are on the home stretch. Trade with China is by far the most important business for the third largest European seaport. Ships of the Chinese shipping company Cosco have been calling at Hamburg for almost 40 years. Two years ago, China’s Vice President Wang Qishan also visited the Tollerort terminal. With its four berths on a quay wall a good kilometer long, 14 container cranes and a five-track rail connection, Tollerort is one of a total of four container terminals in the Port of Hamburg and the second largest at HHLA.

Important loophole

According to experts, by entering Hamburg, China would close the largest gap in its maritime Silk Road. Even more: through a partnership with HHLA, Cosco could also get privileged access to the Italian Adriatic port of Trieste. The Hamburg port operator had taken over the majority in a new terminal there last year – with the express approval of the government in Rome, which wanted to block the way for the Chinese who were also interested. Because a majority stake by Cosco in the largest container terminal in Trieste would have been tantamount to a sell-out from the perspective of the Italians. Now the Chinese could still gain access to Trieste via Hamburg. That would be a decisive move in Beijing’s expansion strategy, since Trieste is the northernmost port in the Mediterranean and therefore particularly important for Central and Eastern Europe. HHLA is also involved in terminals in the Ukraine and Estonia.

“Loss of Sovereignty”

Cosco and its sister company China Merchant already have their own terminals in a total of 14 European ports – or at least shares in the port operators. All the major seaports on the continent are included, from Rotterdam and Antwerp to Le Havre, Bilbao, Genoa, Valencia and Marseille. According to calculations by US experts, more than two thirds of the 50 largest container terminals in the world are already controlled by the Chinese or at least supported by holdings. “Europe has thus lost some of its sovereignty,” complained the former French Prime Minister and China expert, Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The sell-off began in 2016 when Greece, which was practically bankrupt at the time, was forced by the troika made up of the monetary fund, the EU and the ECB to privatize the port of Piraeus. The Chinese were happy to take it and were given complete control of the strategically located port for a bargain price of 280 million euros. Today Piraeus is number four in Europe, behind Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg. The port is the end point of the maritime Silk Road, from China across the Indian Ocean to the Red Sea. Beijing also controls its entrance for onward travel through the Suez Canal, with a naval base in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa.

Silk Road project – anything but a marketing gimmick

The example of Greece shows the political effects of China’s increasing influence in some countries, says Günther Oettinger, the former EU Commissioner and Prime Minister of Baden-Württemberg. “Before the European Union imposed symbolic sanctions on China in March, Greece liked the role of delaying and watering down resolutions against China. A rogue who thinks evil”, said the CDU politician in a guest article for the “Tagesspiegel” “. China’s expansion can no longer be stopped. “We cannot blame the Chinese for being smart. We can only blame ourselves for being so stupid,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, referring to China’s strategy, which is an increasingly large one in Europe’s economy Role to play. In fact, the EU countries watched China’s shopping spree for a long time with takeovers of technology companies such as the German robot manufacturer Kuka. “When China’s leadership launched the ‘New Silk Road’ project in 2013, many in Europe believed it was a marketing gag,” said Günther Oettinger. President Xi Jinping was very serious, as can be seen from the trade network that has now been established. In Europe, China prefers to help those states, such as Greece or Hungary, that are poorer than Western Europeans. These countries are to be tied closely to themselves by investing billions in infrastructure in order to create a “China-friendly Europe”, as a high-ranking EU diplomat of the “world” said.

No concerns from Berlin

The most recent decision by the EU Parliament, which Suspend discussions on the investment agreement reached with China at the end of last year . Among other things, it was supposed to regulate the access of European companies to the Chinese market, but met with growing opposition in the European Union. Critics complained that the agreement did not set any limits to China’s expansionist urge. This is unlikely to prevent the Chinese from entering the Tollerort container port in Hamburg. The negotiations are after NDR- Information well advanced and coordinated with the federal government. There are no concerns from the Chancellery, the Ministry of Economics and Transport, or the Foreign Office.