The political difficulties of working third-market cooperation with China should not hide the fact that European companies are involved as subcontractors in several Chinese infrastructure projects, providing niche technologies outside any policy framework. Alstom has contracts with Sinohydro to provide turbine generators to plants built on the Nile River in Uganda and also in Nigeria. Each contract is worth approximately 50 million Euros. This results in an international expansion of the activities carried by Alstom Hydro China on China’s domestic market. A similar pattern is followed by German companies. Siemens is involved in BRI projects in third countries, such as in Pakistan or Indonesia. Some sources mention a 3 billion EUR turnover from BRI projects since 2017.
Many companies use the political agenda to conclude their own MoUs with Chinese partners. On the list of 52 "third-market" projects agreed between China and Japan in October 2018, 21 are MoUs between companies. During Xi Jinping’s state visit to France last March, FIVES and China National Building Materials Group established a cooperation framework for energy savings in infrastructure projects in developing countries. Schneider Electric signed an MoU for the modernization of the factories of China’s Power Construction Corporation (PCC) in China and abroad, a deal valued at 6 billion EUR that covers digitalizing energy management, automation, and integrating the IoT into industrial processes. But MoUs are only broad cooperation frameworks, and each deal still needs to be negotiated on commercial terms.
When European companies are willing to become the subcontractor that brings technology, third-market cooperation can rely on market forces and does not need political support. This limited market-driven involvement of European businesses in Chinese infrastructure projects is more in line with China’s terms of cooperation as defined by the State Council than with Europe’s ambitious goals to promote standards and norms. Projects supported and endorsed politically by the two sides also exist, but not as strategic initiatives spearheaded by political authorities. Rather, they reflect a rare convergence of companies’ market interests and states’ priorities.
Copyright : Yoan VALAT / POOL / AFP