A COSCO vessel in the port of Amsterdam
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Academic warns of China’s nefarious role in Belgian ports

Prof Jonathan Holslag (Flemish Free University of Brussels) has warned of the potentially dangerous role the Chinese maritime sector is playing in Belgian ports.  The lecturer in international politics says people should be aware of the political and military role played by large Chinese shipping companies. “We need to draw lessons from the conflict in Ukraine and invest in the resilience of our ports” says Holslag.

China is a maritime superpower: the world’s largest shipbuilder and maritime trader.  A report issued by the Belgian academic points to the role civil shipping companies play in achieving China’s political and military goals.

“Each Chinese ship is a ship of war.  The crews chiefly consist of military personnel” says Holslag.  “In China ships need to be built to miliary specifications to allow them to transport tanks.  Ferries have to be able to sail the high seas and can bring tanks and amphibious craft on land”.

Chinese shipping companies acknowledge they are political players and many shipping companies take part in military exercises. Holslag points to the role commercial ships could play in any invasion of Taiwan.

Many Chinese shipping companies are active in the Flemish ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge.  Holslag says these Chinese investments make these ports reliant on China: “Antwerp’s largest container terminal is 80% dependent on COSCO Shipping, a Chinese company”.

The academic urges us to draw lessons from the conflict in Ukraine and our reliance of Russian gas.  “We will need to build an awful lot of ships required to guarantee our strategic economy.  We no longer possess the shipbuilders to do this.  We need to reduce our vulnerability to China”.

Speaking with VRT Prof Holslag accuses the management of the port of Antwerp of failing to take account of China’s political intentions: “This shows a naivety I struggle to understand.  The Belgian authorities need to guard individual sectors, but also guard the resilience and security of the country for the long term.  We must consider our dependence on China”. 

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