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Economic ties between Poland and China

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The "Belt and Road initiative" that many refer to as a modern Silk Road or Silk Road 2.0 is one of the largest infrastructure and investment projects in modern history. The initiative comes from China, but the corridors once finished, would cross 68 countries in the world. Where does Poland come into the picture in this ambitious plan and what can the country gain from a partnership with the Asian giant?

The best chance for Poland…Silk Road 2.0

Mateusz Kiełczyński | 2018. March 18. 00:00

Napoleon once said: “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” It seems that the giant has just awakened. And the Silk Road has a chance to come back in a new form, changing the geopolitical order of the world.

After the initial announcement of the leader of People’s Republic of China (PRC), Xi Jinping, during his visit to Kazakhstan in 2013, the next stages and logistical points of the planned investment are becoming clearer. A tangible example is the creation of new targeted institutions such as the Silk Road Fund with a budget of $ 40 billion or memos linking states on its route. We don’t need to look far to find evidence for China's grand plan: there is a train “China Railway Express”, which runs between Łódź and Xiamen in south-eastern China. The trip takes about 14 days (for comparison, a trip by sea would take over 40 days).
However, among experts and in political circles, the concept of the Silk Road raises extreme emotions. 

*Why Poland?

On the one hand we hear about this development as a great chance for Poland - expert on geopolitics and strategy Jacek Bartosiak, PhD speaks of a possible new economic order in which Poland, thanks to its geographic location, would hold a key position. Moreover, Radoslaw Pyffel, a well-known sinologist and expert on China, sees the prospect of great infrastructure investments. On the other hand, there is concern about the expansion of China and of an emerging empire that would link Germany, Russia and China, but would omit Poland, as it was expressed by former Polish Minister of National Defense Antoni Macierewicz.

In the Silk Road 2.0 project, Poland should seek first of all the opportunity to increase exports and thereby improve the balance of trade. New Silk Road is an infrastructure project of an unprecedented scale, which would certainly entail further investments. It is necessary to establish a warehouse and logistic base in Poland and to modernize road and railway routes in order to serve the project and at the same time effectively exploit the potential of the Chinese trade route. The important role in this matter would probably be performed by the Central Airport, which would be set up in the central part of the country. The project has already been announced by the Ministry of Infrastructure.

*Trail of a new beginning

However, the new Silk Road, due to its generality and variants of the route, remains a precarious project. This may derive from a different Chinese political-business culture, where procedures and written law are often replaced by custom. Another concern is the problem of the release of Chinese capital. Following the mergers and acquisitions of smaller entrepreneurs in the countries on the Silk Road, Chinese would have access to digital data, which would be especially sensitive from a critical infrastructure security perspective.

It seems though that if the project was successful, it would be a huge opportunity but also a significant challenge for Poland. For this country the Silk Road is a prospect which, using its Sino-Russian rivalry for economic domination in the Eurasian region, has the potential to attract investors from the East. The real challenge would be Poland's rational policy towards incoming Chinese capital. An example of the Chinese takeover of the Port of Piraeus - one of the largest ports in Old Europe should serve as a warning for Poland, but also as a clear signal that China is keen on investing in Europe. Poland, regardless of the further development of the Silk Road concept, should take care of the development of the SME sector and thus of the Polish competitive companies and products which, in case of the success of the Silk Road, would have the chance to conquer the markets in the East. Thanks to that, full trains coming from China to Poland via the new Silk Road would not go back empty.

Despite the above-mentioned threats, the Silk Road project seems to be a colossal chance for the Polish economy, infrastructure and its position in the world. The location of Poland, which for centuries was the cause of conflicts and antagonisms, could be its strong point this time around and an impulse for geopolitical change in the Central- Eastern European region.

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