Why does China want influence in European ports?
If you want to know where we’re going, it’s best to look at where we come from. You can see into the future better if you let go of your dominant logic, follow patterns and principles, and see from different perspectives. Based on current events, I share my radar to get a sharper picture on future-driven organizing. You can use this for better strategies, policies, and decisions. This time I look at the question: Why does China want to influence European harbors?
The Dutch television program Nieuwsuur (Dutch only) focused on the expanding influence of the Chinese state-owned company Cosco in European ports. China researcher from institute Clingendael, Xiaoxue Martin, suggested some reasons why this could be a problem:
- lack of reciprocity, China invests in Europe, but European companies cannot invest in Chinese ports;
- growing dependence on China;
- the possibility of specific confidential data falling into the hands of China.
What I miss in the story is the development of China’s Blockchain Service Netwerk (BSN) and the link to the digital currency Renminbi (Yuan, a form of a Central Bank Digital Currency, CDBC). As of October 2022, more than 100 billion Yuan ($14 billion) have already been spent in the form of the Chinese CBDC. China is known to be the leading player on the world stage regarding physical flows.
What if China, with the BSN and the digital currency, would also take control of the data and money flows in addition to the physical and linked to the physical flows?
Blockchain technology is an official focus in the Chinese technology strategy. President Xi Jinping declared in 2019 at a Politburo study session that blockchain technology would be regarded as an “important breakthrough point for indigenous innovation in core technologies.”
Mining and owning crypto is banned in China. Still, local authorities are instructed to: “Promote the intensive and balanced arrangement of the blockchain technology and infrastructure in the region, form a large-scale support capacity for inter-chain data exchange at the production level, and foster the formation of collaborative ecosystems.” Therefore, it is not about investing in crypto but about the underlying blockchain infrastructure as a tool for data-driven organizing with a shared, secured, and accessible reality (an accounting system that transcend company boundaries).
Physical flows know many parties that interact, transact, and mutually exchange data and make payments. When a container ship sails from China to Rotterdam, dozens of actors are only busy shifting data back and forth. What if this is no longer necessary with the Chinese Blockchain Service Netwerk? Think of container shipping companies, storage and transshipment companies, road transport companies, customs, and other government institutions. They all have to do with storage and transshipment, which may soon pass through ports and terminals with a strong Chinese influence, their blockchain network, and digital currency.
So China is launching its blockchain platform and testing a new digital currency. It could be that European ports and terminals are tightly ‘mandated’ to use it. With this combination, China can gain power over data and financial flows in addition to the physical flows. Due to the wait-and-see attitude of European companies and governments, Europe is years behind.
The question is, what answer does Europe have to this? How does this influence the strategy of European transport companies and governments? Do we also need to build a blockchain infrastructure, and what about developing a digital euro?
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