The country needs more Chinese chequers, and we are not talking about the board game. That is because so much has taken place under the radar lately, which we only find out about later, that before we know it large chunks of the country and its infrastructure could have been sold off or outsourced lock stock and barrel before we even knew about it.

Last week, virtually all hell broke loose when Italy said it was considering signing a memorandum of Understanding with China for its Belt and Road infrastructure investment scheme. It was pretty much along the same lines as that signed by Malta some four months ago, and another one back in 2014 just a little after the Labour Party came into office.

Italy has Now Signed On, as has Malta

China’s interests in Malta are considerable and have sprouted up, in reality, only since 2013. Since then it has bought about a third of Enemalta, it has imported Huawei technologies and its 5G network and all that comes with it; it is supplying electricity, it has set up a joint renewable energy project with Malta, and there is even talk about possible Chinese involvement in the Gozo connectivity project.

Given all that, China has, most would argue, purchased itself a certain amount of goodwill with the Maltese government.

China, with its tentacle investments across Europe, is evidently not only looking for footholds in Europe, but it is also leveraging its formidable economic strength to garner partners around the European Union’s negotiating table.

This aspect reared its ugly head last week right in the midst of the outbreak of criticisms of Italy’s venture into the Chinese unknown.

Bang on cue, enter Malta’s foreign minister Carmelo Abela at the EU Foreign Affairs Council last Monday, encouraging his European colleagues to jump on board the Chinese bandwagon, stating that Malta “encourages further synergy between the EU’s Strategy on Connecting Europe and Asia, and China’s Belt and Road Initiative”.

This encouragement did not come out of the blue, the occasion was an exchange of views on China and EU-China relations, with a Chinese foreign minister in attendance. Abela argued that in light of “ongoing developments in the relations between the US and China”, namely, we assume, the Huawei controversy that the Maltese government seems to be completely ignoring. Instead, it is actually unquestioningly fostering, unlike practically every other Western government, “it is important to reiterate the importance of multilateral cooperation on issues of common concern like peace, security, and climate change”.

Two days later, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne was extolling the virtues of Chinese medicine and how 10,00 Maltese had benefited from treatment at Chinese medicines clinics.

Now, this may all be a case of happenstance, but the timings of these things are more than a little suspect considering Chinese events on the geopolitical stage.

And once that surface is scratched, like those scratch and sniff stickers, some answers begin to appear and they do not smell very good at all.

The first answer is the most obvious: with Malta partnering up with China,
Chinese interests could be at least partially represented around the EU table, where unanimity among the EU’s member states is required for such decisions.

China also stands to gain considerably through the setting up of a joint venture on renewable energy which, through a clever sleight of hand, China will be able to sell its solar panels to the EU, through Malta, and in the process circumvent the bitter trade dispute on solar energy products that is still raging between China and the EU.

Similarly, China will also be able to hub its energy services and products through Malta virtually uninhibited because it is European-owned, technically speaking.

But there could very well be more than meets the eye to the deals and there could also be the issue of China looking to purchase support around the EU’s negotiating table.

Back in November, Malta and China had signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the One Belt One Road initiative. At the time, it was said that the agreement would ‘provide the basis for projects, investment, and cooperation in the trade, financial services and tourism sectors to be carried out between the two countries’.

It was reported at the time that Malta was among the first European countries with which China has signed such an agreement.

But while Malta has been signing agreements and openly courting China on so many levels, especially since 2013, no one has batted an eyelid. But the moment Italy suggests that it may sign a similar MOU, Europe goes into a tailspin.

It seems that no one is really keeping an eye on Malta’s dubious and growing relations with China but someone should. Rest assured that we, for one, are doing just that.

Editor’s note: The article reflects the author’s opinion only, and not necessarily the views of editorial opinion of Belt & Road News.