European attitude on BRI turning more positive

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/21 20:18:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Note:

The University of Oxford will hold its First Belt Road Initiative Summit on September 13-14. What's the reason for such a summit? How do Europeans view the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative (BRI)? How should Chinese enterprises seize opportunities and tackle challenges that the BRI brings in countries along the route? Global Times (GT)London correspondent Sun Wei interviewed Yu Ying (Yu), one of the founders of the One Belt One Road Program in Oxford, about these issues. Yu is a research fellow in Law Justice and Society at Wolfson College, University of Oxford.

GT: What drove the Faculty of Law to launch the Belt Road Initiative Summit?

The purpose of the annual Belt Road Initiative Summit is to provide a forum where leading international scholars, practitioners, industry professionals, and policymakers can come together to present and discuss current developments concerning the BRI, the challenges facing it, and its future directions.

We consider the Belt and Road infrastructure from three aspects: general infrastructure, legal infrastructure and soft infrastructure.

From a legal perspective, it is not only about infrastructure construction, but also the noteworthy problems and challenges caused by different national laws and policies. With the progress of the Belt and Road, and the development of business and investment along the Belt and Road, there will be general commercial disputes, as well as arbitration and litigation between countries and investors. The legal and constitutional framework for complex cross-border problems - the legal infrastructure we define - is thus in great need.

Has the legal and constitutional structure met the level of international cooperation required by the initiative? How do international standards affect the constitutional requirements and traditions of participating states? How do you protect cross-border consumers? These are examples of problems that need to be addressed urgently.

On the other hand, culture and the arts, which are what we call the soft infrastructure, are more effective in communication and resolving differences, compared to rigid infrastructure. For example, the economic prosperity and artistic glory of Venice is built on the wealth accumulated in trade along the ancient Silk Road, but now the city is dying. We all regret that the ancient Loulan Kingdom was swallowed up by the shifting sands of the Taklamakan Desert. The new Silk Road will undoubtedly create more new cultural and artistic centers, but how do we avoid the death of culture? How do we protect cultural heritage along the Silk Road? These are all questions worth discussing.

Although the first Oxford Belt Road Initiative Summit is launched by our law faculty, the topics are not limited to legal issues.

We also invited economists, environmentalists, historians, classical artists, scientists and medical scientists to discuss all aspects of the problems.

GT: Since the introduction of the BRI in 2013, China has signed cooperation agreements with over 40 countries. What is the process of understanding this initiative for Westerners or Europeans?

Europeans have changed their attitudes from cautious and conservative toward positive and proactive. Obviously, the BRI links Europe to China, which means that Europe can get more trade, investment and cooperation opportunities.

Many Europeans also acknowledge the potential for cooperation, but their attitudes vary because many specific issues are involved. Also, attention in Europe is largely limited to the elites, the general public is not aware of this.

From my personal experience, the British scholars and other European scholars who have been to China and communicated with Chinese people are open-minded toward China and the BRI, and they want to learn more. Apart from the government level of communication, people-to-people interactions and media communication can often play a big role.

GT: As major participants, how should Chinese enterprises cooperate with the Belt and Road countries with different legal traditions. How do we resolve disputes and contradictions?

Compared to traditional trade, the Belt and Road will give small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and consumers more opportunities for international trade, as well as risk. However, as major participants, SMEs and individual consumers lack professional and international legal protection. 

There are more than 70 jurisdictions involved, and the challenges cannot be addressed merely through bilateral agreements. The Belt and Road countries need to reach a consensus to form a comprehensive legal framework in order to prevent risks and resolve conflicts. Participants then can predict the consequences of their actions, and assist in decision-making and applications.

I participated in the revision of the United Nations Guidelines on Consumer Protection as an observer on behalf of the International Law Association in 2013. The United Nations adopted the revised UN Guidelines in 2015. It is a very good example of establishing effective consumer protection legislation, law-enforcement agencies and consumer redress systems through a common framework, taking into account the diversity of legal policies and cultures of member states. The 2015 guidelines give special attention to financial consumer protection, e-commerce consumer protection, and consumer redress and so on. Applying the 2015 guidelines as an international common understanding aimed at harmonizing enormous diversity by international cooperation will be a very effective step in legal infrastructure construction.

GT: The BRI helps many Chinese enterprises expand internationally. We noted that some Chinese enterprises have paid a lot of "tuition fees" due to their lack of knowledge and understanding of the legal environment of the host countries. How do we avoid investment risks?

Many Chinese enterprises get excited at the opportunities of selling products overseas via the BRI, but they also face serious legal risks when they enter into cross-border transactions.

The European legal systems are stringent: not only do EU member states have their own laws, but there is also a different set of laws for the EU as a whole. The protection EU law offers consumers is stricter than in China. As some Chinese firms may not have a good grasp of the complex European legal system, such legal risks may ultimately lead to a heavy economic price for some companies as a result of failed collaborations.

Therefore, in order for Chinese firms to successfully enter and operate within European markets, they must conduct in-depth research to fully comprehend the laws of the EU member states in question as well as of the EU itself, so as to make full use of the relevant rules and regulations to protect their interests.

Successful overseas expansion also involves education and information programs: letting businesses and consumers understand these laws and information; understanding existing consumer redress procedures and other ways to resolve disputes; enabling people to act as discriminating consumers, capable of making an informed choice of goods and services, and conscious of their rights and responsibilities.

GT: Some countries are skeptical about the initiative, such as Australia and India. How do you evaluate these doubts?

Some countries are skeptical because they are worried about their interests in the Asia-Pacific region. They are concerned that getting too close with China might lead to their relationship with the US being affected.

GT: Britain is the far west end of the Belt and Road. Are there any changes of attitudes toward China and Chinese investors with the new government?

After British Prime Minister Theresa May came to power, she suspended the construction of Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant by Chinese engineers over national security concerns.

This was due to political considerations. New governments always overthrow the policies of the previous government to establish their own prestige.

However, it was not long before May approved the Hinkley Point project. May knows that China is one of the most important trading partners for post-Brexit Britain.

In fact, in addition to the British government, many British companies, think tanks and academic institutions are passionate for the BRI, because they see opportunities and hope.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

blog comments powered by Disqus