Sunday, October 3, 2010

And for the Main Course, China Will Have - Ireland

China is now making its move to gain a foothold (both politically and commercially) in Europe by offering to buy Greek bonds. As Al Jazeera notes, the real benefit for China is not so much the acquisition of debt (although this will help shore up the Eurozone, an obvious market for Chinese exports), but rather the foothold it will give China in key European industries and facilities, such as ports and infrastructure. Not only will this potentially  provide yet more markets for Chinese firms that specialise in infrastructure development, it will also ensure China receives considerable political capital for its investment.

After Greece, I feel it is inevitable that China will look to Ireland - if not for economic opportunities (which are, as we sadly know, thin on the ground) then the immense political capital investment in Ireland offers. As with Greece, China has the opportunity to get into European infrastructure at low, low prices - but Ireland offers ports and airports much nearer the key European economies of France, Germany and the UK than Greece does.

More to the point, however, is what China stepping-in to save Ireland would say about China and its place in the world. Investing in a country like Greece, a non-English speaking economy with considerable socialist characteristics, is not a serious departure from China's existing investment efforts in Africa and Asia. All that is new is that the target of investment is in Europe. But investing in Ireland, an English-speaking nation smack bang in the Anglo-American axis, which for the last 10 years has been a poster-child for laissez-faire capitalism - that says China has arrived, and is now a force for the whole world (developed nations included) to reckon with. In effect, China will go from winning economically with a home team advantage (i.e. its spectacular domestic performance), to winning the away leg in front of hostile fans (gaining a global commercial presence).

It is, as I have said, inevitable - so how does Ireland handle it? Do we simply pretend like its not possible, or do we seize the Chinese opportunity with both hands. Are cash-rich shareholders with strategic vision such a bad thing?

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