“The EU’s policy towards China should be based on the following principles: cooperate where possible, compete where needed, confront where necessary. Such an approach allows the EU to react with flexibility to the evolution of the bilateral relationship.” This is an excerpt from the position of the European People’s Party (EPP), the largest party in the European Parliament, towards China. A position that I am the author of.
The document, drafted by me together with a group of collaborators, was debated and negotiated so that it could be approved by our party’s 176 MEPs from all over Europe. It was admitted on March 9.
Why Is It So Important?
First, developing a relationship with China – a state that has been increasingly ambitious and aggressive – is one of the greatest challenges facing Europe. The shape of these relations will have an impact not only on the foreign policy and economy of the European Union, but also on the process of European integration itself.
Secondly, the EPP, as the Parliament’s largest party, will play an important role in shaping the entire EU’s policy toward China.
Third, our relationship with China is changing very rapidly. A few decades ago, China was a poor and economically backward country, hungry for Western investment. Until a decade ago, Chinese authorities followed Deng Xiaoping’s maxim “hide your strength, bide your time.”
Throughout this period, Western countries believed that after a partial opening of their economy, China would move toward a more democratic and transparent governance model. Nothing of this sort happened, and Western companies increasingly complained of intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers, and the need to compete with Chinese companies heavily subsidized by the state.
Moreover, a few years ago, China abandoned its current model of politics in favor of a more aggressive and assertive attitude, known as wolf warrior diplomacy. Today, President Xi Jinping is no longer hiding that his country has global ambitions. It is no wonder, after all, it is the most populous country in the world with a powerful economy.
However, concerns and objections are raised by the fact that Beijing is demanding market access from its partners and expects equal treatment; whereas, at the same time, it does not offer the same in return.
The change in Beijing’s foreign policy was particularly visible last year. When some countries called for an in-depth investigation into the origins of the pandemic or criticized the actions of the Chinese Communist Party, the authorities reacted with threats of sanctions or introduced such sanctions, as experienced in Australia, for example.
As a result, in just a dozen or so months, attitudes towards China in various countries around the world have dramatically worsened. In Australia, 81% of respondents expressed an unfavorable opinion about China, 74% in the United Kingdom, 85% in Sweden, and 73% in Germany – similarly to the United States. A recent increase in aversion toward China has been visible everywhere. All of this is leading to a tightening and acceleration of the rivalry between Beijing and Washington.
“The biggest geopolitical challenge (…) in the 21st century” – this is how the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, called relations with China. “China is the only country with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system – all the rules, values, and relationships (…),” he said in a recent speech.
In turn, the head of the CIA argued in the US Senate that China “methodically strengthening its capabilities to steal intellectual property, repress its own people, bully its neighbors, expand its global reach, and build influence in American society.”
While President Joe Biden’s views differ from those of Donald Trump in almost every way, relations with China will remain strained. And equally harsh words go to the Americans in Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping said at one of the meetings that the US is the greatest threat to the development and security of the country, as reported by the New York Times. At the same time, the Chinese leader openly argues that we have entered a new era in which “the East is up and the West is declining.”
Words are followed by actions. Chinese authorities are consistently destroying Hong Kong’s autonomy, thereby violating the provisions of the agreement with the United Kingdom, which in 1997 handed over sovereignty over the city to Beijing. In fact, there is nothing left of the “one country, two systems” principle, according to which the people of Hong Kong were to enjoy more freedom than the people of mainland China.
The authorities also announce that for the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party rule, there will be a “unification” with Taiwan, whose independence Beijing has never recognized. The island’s independence is being defended by Americans.
The situation is so serious that international journals publish extensive articles analyzing how to avoid a war between the two powers and who would win in the clash for Taiwan.
Of course, this does not mean that Biden’s policy towards China will be a simple continuation of Trump’s policy. The main difference is that the previous president did not look back at his allies, repeatedly surprising the world with his statements and actions. One day, he would praise China for its efficient fight against the fledgling pandemic and its willingness to cooperate, and a moment later blame Beijing for not preparing the United States to fight the coronavirus.
Meanwhile, Biden admits that in relations with China he needs the support of allies, announced that he will rebuild relations with partners, and is more predictable in his actions.
However, this does not change the fundamental dilemmas facing Europe: how to find its place in a situation of growing conflict? What to do if there is a war? How to react to unfair treatment of our companies on the Chinese market, including intellectual property theft? Whether to allow Chinese corporations, subsidized by the government, to buy European companies hit by the pandemic? How to combat Chinese censorship, propaganda, and disinformation that infiltrate European media? Finally, how to respond to the obvious violations of the fundamental rights of Chinese citizens, including the Uyghur minority? The answers to these and many other questions can be found in the EPP report.
We are facing a major change in the balance of power on the international arena. Even if, hopefully, this new cold war does not turn into a hot one, the attention of the United States will likely shift from Europe to East Asia.
The European Union will, therefore, be forced to take greater responsibility for its security, especially in our immediate neighborhood: the Mediterranean and the East. For one of the most important questions in the coming years, crucial for the peace of Europe – especially Poland and the countries of our region – is: in this new balance of power, which side will Russia take?
In the European People’s Party’s report, we write that “The global struggle between democracy and authoritarianism is a major determinant of our relationship with China. As a result, the space for cooperation and economic exchange has shrunk.” This does not mean that we are doomed to conflict. But we must defend our interests much better.
Only a strong and united European Union is capable of achieving this goal. Broken and divided European states will not be taken seriously. Neither by China, nor by the United States.
The article was originally published at: https://liberte.pl/wobec-chin-europa-musi-byc-silna-i-zjednoczona/
Translated by Olga Łabendowicz
Polish Ombudsman: Watchdog, Not Lapdog