Ukraine War: Impact On China’s BRI To Europe – OpEd


Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) appeared to have been more promising to  Europe as the New Eurasian Land Bridge. With the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine for over an year China’s plans to expand trade and fortify transportation ties with Central and Eastern Europe have been unbalanced.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has profoundly changed the geopolitical landscape and trend of the world, with significant implications for China, both positive and negative. China’s support for Russia during Putin’s trying invasion has near derailed may be temporarily the BRI dream project of President Xi Jinping in Europe. President Xi’s choice to stand by Putin has proved costly for the BRI till as long the war continues.

Poland, a NATO ally, EU member is taking the lead role leader of Eastern European nations to stand against Russia and is now playing a key role as a weapons conduit for Ukraine and has taken in over 2 million Ukrainian refugees. Despite signing an agreement with Beijing on the BRI initiative in 2015, fears about deteiorating relations with China had been growing in Poland’.

90% of rail cargo went via the northern route through Russia and Belarus prior to the Russian invasion but now major freight forwarders, such as Maersk and DHL, refuse to work in Russia. China-Europe trade by rail has fallen by  over 35% in 2022. 

President Xi Jinping put forward his dream project BRI for international cooperation in 2013. BRI is the greatest global infrastructure initiative in history. China has lent over one trillion dollars to Third World countries, becoming a bigger lender than the World Bank, regional development banks, and western financiers combined. This worries the West presently embroiled in a new Cold War with China. To counter this the West planned a rival infrastructure In 2021, President Joe Biden, in collaboration with the Group of Seven (G7), launched the Build Back Better World Initiative (“B3W”) an infrastructure investment program conceived to compete with BRI. B3W lacks  financing thereby preventing it to pose any serious challenger to China’s initiative and has  got nowhere. As of January 2023, 151 countries were listed as having signed up to the BRI.

India has tried to convince countries that the Chinese BRI is a plan to dominate Asia, warning that through geoeconomic BRI strategy China creates unsustainable debt burdens on small developing nations like Sri Lanka, Pakistan and few African countries. Accordingly, the US views India as a counterweight to a China-dominated Asia and has sought to knit together its strategic relationships in the region.

Xi’s ambitious vision for the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road is to accommodate expanding maritime trade traffic by investing in port development along the Indian Ocean, from Southeast Asia all the way to East Africa and parts of Europe.Finally, Beijing could seek geopolitical leverage over BRI countries.

Projects in Ukraine 

  • The direct line from Changsha in China’s Hunan province to Chop in Western Ukraine and the Xian-Budapest line, which passes through Kyiv, are dead for the moment. 
  • Ukraine was described as one of the largest markets for Xinjiang Beiken Energy Engineering, a private Chinese energy technology company, which has a major partnership with Ukraine’s Naftogaz Ukr Gas Vydobuvannya (UGV) in Poltava, also the target of major Russian attacks. 
  • Dredging the port of Mariupol, a city that Russian forces have nearly destroyed. Chinese wind power companies also invested in Mariupol, as well as in the port of Yuzhny, near Odesa, now effectively blockaded by Russian naval forces.

Alternatively, China may focus on developing the China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor route Maritime Silk Road, especially cooperation with Iran and Pakistan. Xi’s grand dream needs to worry about growing number of deepening connections between European democracies and Taiwan. Western support for Ukraine, and opposition to the Russian invasion.The Russia-Ukraine conflict will also lead China to choose countries with a more stable situation to build BRI projects being aware of the US’ intention to counter Chinese interests. 

The deteriorating relations between Russia and the West have led economic relations between China and Russia to become closer, with all of Russia’s political, business and economic circles turning their eyes to China resulting into “No-Limits Friendship”.

The negative impact of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on the European economy is significantly moving towards China-Europe cooperation. The world’s largest market is in Asia, and the connection with China and East Asian markets is the fundamental way out for the development of the EU. 

In the future, the BRI is also likely to focus more on China’s periphery, especially Southeast Asia.  China’s trade with Southeast Asia is about $800 billion a year. ASEAN focuses on economic development, not to choose sides between China and the US.

There is a change in Europe’s attitude toward China on the Ukraine issue and differences with the US. As the conflict continues, Europe’s losses  are increasing day by day, and its desire for peace talks and a political solution is becoming stronger, showing a “certain degree of convergence” with China’s views.

The current visit by the French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on April 6, to China is an indication to “relaunch” a strategic partnership between Europe and China. He also plans to urge Xi Jinping, China’s leader, to play a “major role” in bringing peace to Ukraine— which though appears unlikely –“No-Limits Friendship”.Earlier it was German Chancellor on a similar mission.Such high profile visits of European leaders reflect a decline of US influence! 

Macron and Von der Leyen’s visit to China demonstrates that China and Europe’s need for each other is still growing in the current international environment during the Russia-Ukraine conflict and a standoff of relations between Russia and the West. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has stalled the BRI dream project of President Xi Jinping in Europe but in view of Europe’s economic interests it should not be taken for granted that it is the end of the BRI Eurasian Land Bridge but in the long term BRI cooperation between China and Europe may be strengthened.Situation may change once the Russia-Ukraine conflict comes to an end.

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *