David Cameron and Romano Prodi come from opposite ends of Europe’s political spectrum, but they have much in common. Both have left high office, boast an extensive network of connections, and now work in some capacity for China.
The former British and Italian prime ministers are far from alone: Across Europe, politicians past and present are taking positions on China’s growing global reach.
Some such as Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the former Danish premier and head of NATO, warn that Europe must gird itself against China’s rise. Far more are riding the wave and helping China’s onward march. It’s a dilemma likely to feature at an EU-China summit this month.
Following are a selection of Europe’s more prominent China advocates.
Cameron, who was U.K. prime minister from 2010 until his resignation in 2016 after losing the Brexit referendum, made China a focus of his premiership. He announced a “golden era” of British-China relations aimed at boosting bilateral trade and investment, and approved a controversial deal allowing Chinese involvement in the Hinkley Point nuclear development. In October 2015, during a visit to the U.K., President Xi Jinping posed for a selfie with Cameron at Manchester City soccer ground. Two years later and no longer in office, Cameron was made the head of a $1 billion China-U.K. fund supporting China’s massive Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure plan.
Dominique de Villepin
As France’s foreign minister, De Villepin came to global prominence in 2003 when he argued the case against the U.S.-led war in Iraq at the United Nations in New York. He went on to serve as France’s prime minister under President Jacques Chirac. He’s since become a regular commentator on Chinese affairs and advises Chinese companies on their international expansion plans through his consultancy Villepin International.
Another former French prime minister, Raffarin sits on the board of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), an annual showcase for world leaders that is China’s answer to Davos. President Xi chose this year’s Boao Forum to deliver his message of a “new phase of opening up.” A prominent China advocate, Raffarin is also a member of the strategic committee of the France China Foundation, a body which brings together French and Chinese leaders and whose backers include Bank of China.
Prodi served two terms as Italy’s prime minister a decade apart, with a five-year stretch as president of the European Commission — the European Union’s executive body — in between. An economist and former Goldman Sachs adviser, Prodi sits on the board of the Boao Forum. He was cited in the China Daily as welcoming Xi’s speech to the forum in April, praising the president’s “strong determination in safeguarding globalization, free trade and open economy.” Prodi is also a member of the board of the China Europe International Business School.
Alexander was Chief Secretary to the U.K. Treasury from 2010 to 2015, during David Cameron’s first-term coalition government with the Liberal Democrats. As such he was part of the administration that announced the golden era of ties with China. In an interview with China’s Xinhua news agency, Alexander later said that within government he had “advocated strongly that the U.K. should join the AIIB,” as the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is known. Knighted after losing his parliamentary seat at the 2015 election, Sir Danny was appointed vice president of the AIIB in February 2016.
Roesler endured turbulent times during his spell as junior coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s second-term coalition cabinet, first as minister for health and then German economy minister and vice chancellor. After losing his seat in the 2013 election along with all his Free Democratic Party lawmakers, Roesler retired from politics and joined the managing board of the World Economic Forum. In December, he was made CEO of HNA Group Co.’s New York-based charity, Hainan Cihang Charity Foundation Inc. The nonprofit holds 29.5 percent of HNA, which had about $180 billion in assets at the time of Roesler’s appointment.
Scharping was German defense minister from 1998 to 2002 under Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. During his watch, the German army took part in the NATO-led attack on Yugoslavia, its first combat mission since World War II. His consultancy, Rudolf Scharping Strategie Beratung Kommunikation AG (RSBK), boasts of its “long years of contact with Chinese and German decision makers” and specializes in business development for companies and institutions in China. RSBK is involved in a German-Chinese Economic Conference, to be held in Frankfurt in November, focused on the Belt and Road Initiative.
By Alan Crawford and Patricia Suzara