Timothy Garton Ash: Europe's crisis is China's opportunity. No wonder nice Mr Wen is on his way





Timothy Garton Ash is a historian, political writer and Guardian columnist. His personal website is www.timothygartonash.com.

Once upon a time, Europe colonised bits of China. Today, China colonises bits of Europe. Informally, of course, and much more politely than when the boot was on the other foot. China's rise both illuminates and exploits Europe's relative decline.
 
When prime minister Wen Jiabao comes to Europe at the end of this week, he will visit Germany, Britain and Hungary. Why Hungary? Partly because it holds the rotating presidency of the EU but also because China has large investments there and aims to make more – as it does elsewhere in south-eastern and southern Europe. For example, it holds a 35-year lease on the largest container port in Piraeus, Greece (shall we call it a Greek Shanghai?) A forthcoming study by François Godement and Jonas Parello-Plesner of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) estimates that 40% of Chinese investment in the EU is in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece and eastern Europe. Over the last year, Chinese political leaders have also visited Spain, Portugal and Greece.
 
Why pay so much attention to the periphery? Well, there are promising investments to be made there and these smaller, peripheral economies are an easy way in to a single European market of 500 million consumers. The EU market is far more open to Chinese investors than the Chinese one is to Europeans.
 
Investing heavily in these countries also has a political pay-off...


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