China’s Belt and Road initiative raises questions about economic stability for recipient countries and access for European businesses, the French Treasury said Thursday in a report, highlighting diverging European views as Italy seeks to participate in the massive spending program.
The report said the sustainability of finances provided by China is “uncertain” and economic benefits for Europe will depend on how open China is. The infrastructure initiative aims to boost trade and transportation throughout Eurasia.
“The strategy of the Belt and Road Initiative raises several challenges for the countries where it is deployed, but also for the European Union and France,” the Treasury said.
France’s caution contrasts with the change in approach of the Italian government, which is drawing up a memorandum of understanding to extend Belt and Road in Italy in areas from transport to culture. French authorities are seeking cooperation on a project-by-project basis and have not signed an MOU, according to the French report.
Italy is also pivoting away from its European partners by dropping support for an initiative France has pushed to strengthen screening of foreign investments in Europe.
The French report said China’s investments could raise growth potential in host countries, boosting global growth and therefore European economies. But it is uncertain how much European businesses will benefit benefit because the vast majority of Chinese financing has in the past gone to Chinese companies.
The authors also underlined risks for countries receiving financing from China. They noted that China obtained a 99-year concession for the Hambantota port when Sri Lanka defaulted on a loan.
“The size of financing provided by China increases the risk of non-viable economic projects being financed that could drag the countries concerned into unsustainable debts,” the French Treasury said.