China’s Expansion in Europe (B1-B2/v28035)

Introduction

Billions of dollars of Chinese money are boosting some European economies – but some of the deals being struck have a catch. Critics say they are “debt traps”, where China gets to choose what happens if loans aren’t repaid.

Script

BBC TV Journalist:  The war in Ukraine is forcing countries across Europe to reconsider doing business with Russia. Now it comes at a time when Moscow’s most powerful ally, China, continues to expand its economic interests across European countries. But there are allegations of worker exploitation, environmental damage and so-called debt traps where Beijing has stepped in to lend billions of dollars. China denies the accusations and insists it’s a reliable partner and that (it) offers investment where others are unwilling. Our Europe correspondent, Nick Beak, has visited key Chinese projects across the Balkans and southern Europe and has this special report.

Nick Beak, BBC Europe Correspondent:  It’s an unmistakably Chinese scene from the workers to the offices. Beijing is pouring money into this copper mine hoping it’s a golden gateway to further economic expansion. But this is not China, it’s Serbia, on the edge of the EU where the red of the Communist Party is leaving its mark.

Dung Nguyen, Vietnamese worker:  The Chinese company treats us terribly.

Beak:  We tracked down this Vietnamese man who said he paid $1,600 to come here for a construction job.

Nguyen:  They forced us to work more, but they did not provide enough supplies.  There are 20 or 30 workers living together in each container. They treat us like slaves.

Beak:   After half a year the father of three tried to leave, but was stranded.  Shortly after we met he did manage to return home only after taking a $2,000 loan. This is the Ling-Long tire factory where he worked. Employment contracts we’ve seen appear to be copied and pasted from the Middle East. If you’re caught stealing, your hand is chopped off.  If you were to murder someone, you’re beheaded. The company didn’t respond to the various allegations made against them.

Danilo Curcic, A11 Initiative for Economic and Social Rights:  This is the most visible case of labor exploitation we (have) had in the country so far.

Beak:   Human rights groups say it’s a warning as Chinese business expands further into Europe.

Curcic:  If you’re actually having Chinese companies coming to other countries and not having (don’t have) institutions who are strong enough to prevent human rights violations or labor standards violations or any other violations, you will have probably the race to the bottom with the other companies.

Beak:   From Serbia to neighboring Croatia, this former Yugoslav country is now part of the European Union and the EU is paying for its biggest infrastructure project – the Pelješac Bridge, but it’s Beijing built down to the last bolt. The tender from the Chinese, state-owned company was 20% cheaper than its nearest competitor. European rivals called foul, but couldn’t stop the deal. Croatia and all other European countries face a delicate balancing act in dealing with Beijing.  Concerns remain over alleged debt traps, cyber security not to mention human rights, but there’s a general reluctance to side exclusively with the United States and to reject all future Chinese investment and big infrastructure projects.

Professor Branimir Vidmarovic, University of Pula, Croatia:  So in Croatia we don’t have fears about Chinese influence.

Beak:  This academic argues if European governments are smart and selective, they can benefit from partnership with Beijing.

Vidmarovic:  So if we exclude critical technologies, if we cooperate on physical things like, you know, railways, infrastructure projects, I don’t think that there is much problem in satisfying both the EU, NATO, U.S. and China.

Beak:  We asked five Chinese ambassadors in Europe for an interview about Beijing’s vision for the Continent, but none was available. But European countries are reassessing doing business with Beijing, which has failed to condemn ally Russia’s attack on Ukraine. It could mean Europe watching more big Chinese investment opportunities pass by.  Nick Beak, BBC News, Croatia.

Quiz

1. There are ________ of worker exploitation, environmental damage and so-called debt traps.
2. China denies the accusations and insists it's a reliable partner that offers investment where others are ________.
3. We ________ this Vietnamese man who said he paid $1,600 to come here for a construction job.
4. They ________ us like slaves.
5. Strained relations over Russia could mean Europe watching more big Chinese investment opportunities ________.

Discussion

  1. Are you familiar with some of China’s infrastructure investment in Europe and elsewhere around the globe?
  2. What are some of the concerns that governments might have about collaborating on major development projects with China?
  3. Is the United States a better option concerning funding and building infrastructure around the world?

Resources