The huge map of the world that hangs in Shanghai Pudong airport exhibits solely 4 European cities. Three — Paris, London, Berlin — are marked with small dots. The most important is reserved for Duisburg.
This may appear a wierd alternative. Caught in Germany’s north-western rust belt, town is hardly a throbbing metropolis and was lengthy a byword for industrial decline and unemployment.
However Duisburg is the world’s largest inland port and certainly one of Europe’s largest transport and logistics hubs. It is usually the western terminus of Chinese language chief Xi Jinping’s new Silk Highway, the Belt and Highway Initiative to finance and construct infrastructure in additional than 80 nations.
“The Chinese language see Duisburg and its port as their gateway to western Europe,” mentioned Johannes Pflug, town’s commissioner for China. “That has given it a complete new significance.”
The China issue is clearly seen in Duisburg Intermodal Terminal, certainly one of a number of such cargo-handling hubs within the port. Daily containers arriving by prepare from Chongqing and Wuhan are loaded on to vans and ships and distributed to Italy, Switzerland, France and past. Chinese language logos — Cosco, China Delivery, UES — are ubiquitous.
We should protect our independence and in any respect prices keep away from falling right into a debt entice with the Chinese language
The terminal’s large China breakthrough got here in 2014, when Mr Xi got here to welcome a prepare arriving from Chongqing. “Progress of our China site visitors has been exponential since then,” mentioned Amelie Erxleben, DIT’s head of worldwide growth. Thirty of the 90 trains DIT receives each week are from China, she mentioned.
Final yr the corporate leased a further 200,000 sq m of land from Duisburg Port to deal with its rising China enterprise. “It was the final accessible house,” Ms Erxleben mentioned. “We’re actually reaching the boundaries of our capability right here.”
China’s Belt and Highway plan is more and more controversial within the west. There was dismay in Berlin and Paris final month when Italy, hoping for brand new funding in its stagnant financial system, turned the primary G7 nation to endorse the programme.
The transfer got here at a time of accelerating concern in Europe about China’s international ambitions. Because the EU ready for a bilateral summit with China this month, the European Fee issued a paper branding the nation an “financial competitor” and “systemic rival”. It warned that Chinese language investments in some nations “might end in high-level indebtedness and switch of management over strategic belongings and assets”.
Germany has in current months assumed a very hawkish stance on China. Heiko Maas, international minister, sharply criticised Italy for breaking ranks with its allies over the BRI. “If some nations suppose they’ll do intelligent offers with the Chinese language, they’ll be shocked and get up someday dependent [on China],” he mentioned. Presents that appeared profitable within the short-term might “purchase a bitter aftertaste”.
However in Duisburg, few share Mr Maas’s scepticism. “The BRI is a large alternative for us,” mentioned Erich Staake, head of Duisburg Port AG. Final yr, town acquired 6,300 trains from China: that would rise to 10,000 throughout the subsequent 5 years, he mentioned.
Wednesday, 20 March, 2019
Mr Staake hopes ultimately to convey that right down to 10.
The elevated site visitors with China has acted as a “catalyst” for different buyers, mentioned Mr Pflug. They embrace transport and logistics firm Kuehne + Nagel, which lately arrange certainly one of its largest European hubs in Duisburg. The variety of Chinese language firms energetic within the metropolis had doubled to 100 up to now 5 years, Mr Pflug mentioned. Chinese language developer Starhai plans to construct a €260m “China Commerce Middle Europe” in certainly one of Duisburg’s enterprise parks.
Nonetheless, Mr Staake mentioned he understood the alarm about China’s rise. “You get the impression some individuals really feel blindsided by the pace with which China is creating new buying and selling routes and by the affect it’s acquired by its investments alongside the Silk Highway in locations like Africa and southern Europe,” he mentioned.
However he’s fatalistic a few course of he sees as inevitable. “I do know of no case in historical past when large powers haven’t deployed all their energy and power to create dependencies, and I’d be amazed if China turned out to be an exception,” he mentioned.
Wednesday, 20 March, 2019
A brief stroll from his workplace, the Kingdom, a giant Chinese language restaurant housed in a former automotive showroom, stands close to the confluence of the Rhine and Ruhr rivers. Supervisor Qing Wang has simply opened a German-Chinese language Enterprise Centre on the primary flooring. A desk flanked with Chinese language and German flags stands prepared for ceremonial contract-signings whereas a poster welcomes guests with the phrases: “The place the prepare stops, the alternatives start.”
“Since President Xi got here right here, everybody in China is aware of about Duisburg,” Mr Wang mentioned. One businessman conversant in town is Chang Su, head of SRL World Forwarding. Based mostly within the southern Chinese language metropolis of Chengdu, his firm, which specialises in customs brokering, is trying to construct a bonded warehouse in Duisburg.
“We’re hoping there’ll be a direct rail hyperlink quickly between Chengdu and Duisburg, and when it comes we need to be prepared,” Mr Su mentioned.
Mr Pflug, a former Bundestag MP and long-term East Asia professional who has visited China greater than 60 occasions, is pleased with Beijing’s obsession along with his metropolis. However he additionally has pink strains with regards to Chinese language funding.
He needs to make sure Duisburg doesn’t share the identical destiny as Hambantota, a Sri Lankan port, which in 2017 handed to Chinese language management underneath a 99-year lease.
“We should protect our independence and in any respect prices keep away from falling right into a debt entice with the Chinese language,” Mr Pflug mentioned. “We don’t need to find yourself like Sri Lanka.”