In 2017, China claimed its place as one of the top 5 foreign investors in Flanders, Belgium’s northern region. Numerous Chinese companies have already discovered Flanders due to its logistics network and central location in Europe. Industry players such as Cosco Shipping, Sunward Equipment Group, Haoneng Packaging and STO Express all operate bases in the region. Three recent investments – by Cosco Shipping Ports, Hainan Airlines and Geely subsidiary Volvo Cars – highlight how the relationship between Flanders and China is far from cooling off.
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These Chinese firms are riding the OBOR wave in Flanders
In September 2017, Chinese terminal operator Cosco Shipping gained full control of the APM Terminal at the Port of Zeebrugge, one of Flanders’ four leading seaports. With an annual capacity of 1 million TEU, the APM Terminal is a major part of the busy deep-sea container port, which smoothly links the UK and European hinterlands.
With the acquisition, Cosco Shipping Ports delivered on its aspiration of setting up a central European hub. “The Chinese group wished to invest in a port with sufficient capacity, excellent maritime accessibility, high productivity and a beneficial location to reach its markets,” confirmed Joachim Coens, CEO of the Port of Zeebrugge.
With the arrival of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner at Brussels Airport in November 2017, Hainan Airlines restored the major air link between Chinese megalopolis Shanghai and Brussels, the capital of both Belgium and Flanders as well as Europe’s political and financial heart. “The new air connection confirms the tightening economic and cultural relationship between Belgium and China,” commented Charles Michel, Belgium’s prime minister, during the traditional water salute held to celebrate the milestone.
“Brussels is the perfect starting point for a trip through Europe,” added Arnaud Feist, CEO of Brussels Airport. “Awareness of that fact is rising among Chinese tourists and professionals. Today, we welcome 150,000 arrivals from China per year, and this number will only grow.” So, it’s no surprise that Hainan Airlines’ restored direct air link with Shanghai is only half the story. The Chinese airline already provided direct flights between Brussels and Beijing, and further expanded its presence at Brussels Airport in March 2018 by launching direct flights between Brussels and Shenzhen.
The first-ever freight train carrying Volvo cars from China to the Port of Zeebrugge – one of four seaports in Flanders – set off on May 13th, 2017, and arrived on May 31st. Zeebrugge expects to receive between 30,000 and 40,000 cars from China each year, which corresponds to 300 trains a year. From the port, which is Europe’s largest hub for new cars, the vehicles are shipped to the rest of the world in containers.