Arguably, 22 countries have already joined the BRI.
Thai News Service, May 19, 2019, China: Promoting High-quality Belt and Road Cooperation between China and Europe (From Chinese Mission to the European Union)
The second point is about concrete results. We have achieved some good results. 22 European countries have signed BRI cooperation documents with China. China-Europe Railway Express has made over 14,000 trips, connecting 15 European countries and 51 European cities. More importantly, the rail services are basically balanced in both directions. And we could do even more. China welcomes more European countries getting involved in the Belt and Road cooperation, no matter individually or as a bloc. China and the EU have agreed to synergize our visions for connectivity. It’s time to get things done.
A substantial portion of these countries are from Eastern Europe.
Simran Sawhney, July 16, 2018, http://natoassociation.ca/the-belt-and-road-initiative-what-does-it-mean-for-nato/ The Belt and Road Initiative: What does it mean for NATO?
With the aim of greater access to European markets through the BRI, China established the sub-regional cooperation 16+1 format in 2012. This cooperation originates its name from the states that comprise it, including China (referred to as the +1); EU members Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia; and the 5 Balkan countries of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. Together, these European and Balkan partners make up the 16 referenced in the name of the format. This 10 billion euro initiative funding financial projects in Central and Eastern Europe proves to be controversial within the EU Parliament, as it is a “perceived erosion of EU norms, values, and unity.”
The first “Western” European country to join was Italy. The U.K. has been flirting with joining but has come under tremendous pressure not to join.
Recently (late summer) the EU has been pushing back against joining.
Gonzalez & Veron, August 2019, Anabel González has been nonresident senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics since October 2018. She was senior director of the World Bank’s Global Practice on Trade & Competitiveness (2014–18), where she led the Bank’s agenda on trade, investment climate, competitiveness, innovation, and entrepreneurship. She previously served as minister of trade of Costa Rica (2010–14), where she headed the strategy to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, negotiated and implemented six free trade agreements, and contributed to attract over 140, Nicolas Véron, senior fellow, joined the Peterson Institute for International Economics in October 2009. Véron is also a senior fellow at Bruegel, a Brussels-based economic policy think tank he helped cofound in 2002–04. A French citizen and graduate of Ecole Polytechnique and Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines de Paris, he has held various positions in the public and private sectors, including as corporate adviser to France’s labor minister (1997–2000), as chief financial officer of the publicly listed internet company MultiMania ,, 19-13 EU Trade Policy amid the China-US Clash: Caught in the Cross-Fire?, https://www.piie.com/system/files/documents/wp19-13.pdf
In the past months, the EU has been rethinking its trade and investment policy towards China. While recognizing that China’s increased participation in the global economy has opened and will continue to represent new significant opportunities for European companies, the EU and its member states have become increasingly critical in their pronouncements about China. The European Parliament has played a significant role in developing this renewed policy stance, and will presumably continue to do so following its renewal in the May 2019 election. From describing China as primarily a strategic partner and a source of growth and jobs, the EU has moved to a more nuanced and occasionally hawkish framing of its approach to China (Legrain 2019). An important recent EU strategy paper states that “China is, simultaneously, a cooperation partner with whom the EU has closely aligned objectives, a negotiating partner with whom the EU needs to find a balance of interests, an economic competitor in pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance” (European Commission 2019a). Strategic political concerns, 17 including over China’s growing economic presence in Europe and potential influence on EU policy making, also underline this change (Morelli 2019). Ostensibly, the shift in the EU’s position stems from the concern that China has failed to reciprocate market access and maintain a level playing field; thus the need for a new EU approach, where Europe becomes “more strategic in planning its technological and industrial future, and far less naïve with regard to unfair competition from other countries” (European Political Strategy Centre 2019). For example, one area of worry relates to China’s apparent pursuit of unique standards and technical regulations in a number of sectors, including autos, telecommunications equipment, Internet protocols, wireless local area networks, software encryption, mobile phone batteries and others, a strategy that shields domestic firms from competition and can potentially create significant barriers to access the Chinese markets (USTR 2017a). In addition, the new stance may be motivated by increased defensiveness on the part of European businesses that are feeling more competitive pressure than in the past from their Chinese peers; and by a willingness to align as much as possible with the US, thus limiting the scope for transatlantic conflict.
France won’t join
Carolyn Bartholomew, Chairman, U.S. – China Economic and Security Review Commission, June 12, 2019, China’s Belt and Road Initiative https://www.finance.senate.gov/download/06122019-bartholomew-testimony
Interestingly, President Macron of France announced 15 business deals worth about $45 billion including 300 Airbus planes, but carefully noted France was not “joining” the BRI and, in fact, pushed back against it, noting that Silk Road cooperation must work in both directions and meet international norms.
Italy backing down, says China will have to meet EU standards
Stuart Lau, July 30, 2019, https://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3020668/italy-experiencing-buyers-remorse-after-signing-chinas-belt, Is Italy experiencing buyer’s remorse after signing up to China’s belt and road scheme?
This is a very recent change and evidence from the contrary from late 2018 and even the spring of 2019 is really too old.
What does this mean for the topic?
There are a few implications.
First, it introduces important uniqueness questions. Pro teams will try to argue that the BRI is “inevitable” because China will go through one country at a time and get it to join the BRI. They will argue this makes all Con disadvantages against the BRI non-unique and that the BRI can only be better off with China joining it. If the Con can win that the EU isn’t going to endorse the BRI now and that more countries are backing down, this helps with uniqueness.
Second, it is important that most Western European countries, including the Germany and France, two of the US’ key allies in Europe (the other one being the U.K.) have decided not to join.
Anyhow, the debate about what countries have joined in the status quo is important because it implicates important uniqueness questions.