Anyone who chooses international trade as their focus of research is hardly able to ignore the world’s largest infrastructure project: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This includes Alexander Sandkamp, Junior Professor of Economics at Christian Albrechts University in Cologne and Fellow at the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW). For a while now, the 32-year-old has been investigating the impact of the New Silk Road, as the BRI is also known. He describes himself as overcome by “mixed feelings”, consisting of euphoria on the one hand and concern on the other.
In the beginning, it was mostly euphoria. Sandkamp remembers the year 2013 well, when Xi Jinping officially took on the role of the People’s Republic’s new head of state and impressed the world with a breathtaking plan. Hundreds of construction projects with an investment volume of several trillion dollars were to boost the global economy in the coming decades and lay the foundation for flourishing trade between economies around the world. The trick is that all roads lead to China in the end.
“At the time, I was thinking: great, an expansion of infrastructure,” says Sandkamp. The prospect of new railway lines, modern seaports and closer connections between countries like Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to the global economy fascinated Sandkamp. And he is still captivated by the impact of this project.
But in the meantime, emerging evidence accompanying the construction of the New Silk Road is worrying even staunch supporters of the project. Sandkamp now speaks of “risks and side effects” that should be kept in mind. For example, with regard to the growing dependence of individual countries on China or the “discriminatory use” of infrastructure, which means that China is deliberately seeking to gain the upper hand. As an expert on international trade, Sandkamp warns that “It is important that the EU does not stand idly by, but reacts actively.”
Doctorate on anti-dumping duties
Early on, it became apparent that business would be a common thread running through his business life. Back in the day, Sandkamp made did A-levels in the UK. Even then, he was fascinated with economics. “I was fascinated by the mathematical preparation and modeling of problems,” he says.
But Sandkamp, on the other hand, found access to China through its language. While everyone else was trying to learn “old school foreign languages”, as he calls it, he wanted to learn Chinese. “In the UK, I also met a lot of nice people from China,” he recalls, “and most of the time, interest in a country is sparked through these kinds of people.”
However, it was not until his doctorate that Sandkamp first became professionally involved with China. More specifically, with the effects of anti-dumping duties on international trade and their contradiction to the actual intention of fair competition. “The EU’s methodology leads to a particularly sharp decline in trade with Chinese exporters,” Sandkamp noted.
Even during his Master’s at the London School of Economics and Political Science and at HEC Paris, and his subsequent departure to Germany for his doctorate at the Ifo Institute for Economic Research and Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, he was always “attracted by the proximity to policy advice”. Meanwhile, Sandkamp has an urgent recommendation to politicians around the globe, as he learned during his first trip to Beijing. Deep smog hung over the city and created an “aha” effect: “It makes you realize that we should all do a bit more for the environment,” he says. Lisa Winter