On 1 October 2017 a referendum on independence was held in Catalonia. The possible independence of this region would have a major impact on the EU participation in the “Belt and Road initiative”.
The independence of Catalonia could create new opportunities for Chinese investments in Europe, especially in the tourism and transport sectors (with the port of Barcelona).
Furthermore, newly independent Catalonia would need to build an international network and seek support from foreign powers. China would then have a card to play.
In the early days following its independence, Catalonia would probably not automatically be a member of the European Union. It is possible that Spain opposes its accession. Catalonia may choose not to apply the European rules on investment (in particular on public tenders). Failure to apply Community rules would enable Chinese companies to invest relatively easily in a major Mediterranean region.
But, it is not clear that China would be interested in this new state. Recognition by Beijing may not be granted. It is the policy of China, which itself faces several separatist movements within its own territory (Tibet, Hong Kong), not to support secessionists in foreign countries.
In the event of a crisis between Madrid and Barcelona, Beijing would prefer its relations with Spain to protect its interests. In 2016, China invested nearly € 1.7 billion in Spain.
Even if it were to be independent, Catalonia would take several years to become a viable state: for example, the country would have to solve some border issues with Spain and face internal tensions from the many pro-Madrid supporters. This lack of stability could discourage all foreign investors.
The independence of Catalonia would also create many challenges to Sino-European relations. The new Catalonia would certainly aim to integrate the European Union. Lengthy negotiations would have to be conducted between Brussels and Barcelona. The EU that still has not solved the Brexit issue, would become even more fragile with Catalonian independence.. This new episode could slow down possible free trade agreement or partnerships for the new Silk Roads with China.
Finally, China could turn away from the European continent because of the possible consequences of the independence of Catalonia over other European regions. Growing separatism in Europe could lead China to no longer consider Europe as a reliable partner.