China: Expert fires warning over ‘divide and conquer strategy’
The EU stunned both Britain and the US when it signed an investment deal with China in December. The new US President, Joe Biden, was expected to renew the bloc’s relationship with the States upon his inauguration last month. However, the EU appeared to undermine his attempts before he had even made it into office by siding with the States’ largest opponent — despite the Biden administration’s attempts to persuade Brussels to slow down.
As White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “Beijing is now challenging our security, prosperity and values in significant ways that require a new US approach.”
Not only is this the cross-party consensus in the States, but Washington also fears that the EU does not realise the gravity of its growing alliance with China.
Former aide to George W Bush, Peter Rough, noted in a new report that President of China, Xi Jinping, had put decades into “insinuating itself in Europe by dangling the promise of political cooperation and access to China’s domestic market”.
He continued: “These efforts, cloaked in language crafted for Western ears, serve Beijing’s long-term strategy of turning Europe into an unwitting network of Chinese tributary states.
“The master strategists behind it envision Europe as a Switzerland on steroids: economically relevant but politically non-aligned.
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The EU signed an investment deal with China before Joe Biden’s inauguration
“This would leave the United States alone in resisting China as Xi and his successors remake the world from astride the Eurasian landmass.”
He added: “The transatlantic alliance is essential to preventing this outcome because Europe possesses neither the strength nor the ability to resist China independently.”
Indeed, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel concluded last year: “Europe can’t defend itself on its own.
“We are reliant on this transatlantic alliance.”
The EU’s decision to sign a deal with China so close to the pro-transatlantic Biden administration coming into power remains peculiar.
Beijing has faced renewed criticism from the West over the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang and the ongoing conflict over Hong Kong’s democratic rights.
The UK has even sparked further tensions with China after offering the five million residents of the former British colony a chance to apply for British visas, and escape a potential crackdown in Hong Kong.
Ongoing speculation over the source of the coronavirus has contributed to fears over China in the West, too, as World Health Organisation officials continue to investigate Wuhan labs.
Joe Biden with President Xi — the new US President had wanted a united strategy towards the growing superpower in the East
Writing in POLITICO, journalist Matthew Karnitschnig explained: “What worries Washington is that Europe is walking into a trap with its eyes wide open.
“After decades of quietly siphoning Western intellectual property in its quest to build world-beating corporations, China has in recent years focused on acquiring companies in the European market, especially Germany.”
However, he also speculated that this could be a deliberate move from Brussels.
He suggested that the EU may be considering “de-coupling” from the US foreign policy agenda out of fears that former President Donald Trump could return to the White House in four years.
Mrs Merkel did note in 2017 that Europe could no longer rely on the US — or the UK — after Mr Trump’s election and Brexit, a view which is unlikely to have altered considering Mr Biden only won the 2020 presidential race by a narrow margin.
The EU has also attempted to justify the drastic move, by claiming the US did not ask for European approval before concluding a deal with China itself — however, this deal was drawn up last January, when Mr Trump was in office.
The EU has claimed that their new agreement will “discipline the behaviour” of China’s state-owned enterprises, as they have to act within the bloc’s guidelines.
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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also stated in June: “It is not possible to shape the world of tomorrow without a strong EU-China partnership.”
She said it was “one of the most strategically important and one of the most challenging” relationships.
Yet, China has proved that it is not good at sticking to such commitments in the past, and continues to violate certain World Trade Organisation rules more than 20 years after joining.
Its violation of the UK’s treaty over Hong Kong’s autonomy is yet another example of Beijing’s fluid approach to international agreements.
There can be no doubt that the White House was not happy about such a deal.
Mr Biden’s decision to phone Prime Minister Boris Johnson first out of all the European leaders signalled his intention to prioritise Britain over the EU — despite repeatedly stating how much he was against Brexit.
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The new President had been keen to take the same strategy towards China — and Russia — as his European counterparts, but he has already been ignored by the bloc.
Speaking before the inauguration, an official from Mr Biden’s transition team said: “The Biden-Harris administration looks forward to consulting with the EU on a coordinated approach to China’s unfair economic practices and other important challenges.”
But in the wake of the new investment deal, the EU seems divided from the US, having handed China a strategic victory.
As Chairman of the European Parliament’s China delegation, Reinhard Butikofer, said: “We’ve allowed China to drive a huge wedge between the US and Europe.”
Back in POLITICO, Mr Karnitschnig continued: “As the strategic rivalry between the US and China comes into focus, most Europeans profess a desire to stay on the sidelines and remain neutral.
“But if they believe Europe can become Switzerland, they’re mistaken.”
The commentator suggested that the EU could become the “neutral zone” or a “lawless territory” which serves as a “buffer between the major powers” instead.