Europe Thought China to be Balance to U.S. Power. Do They Know Better Now?
About a year ago, the Chinese president Xi Jinping gladly said that his country would take the United States’ place as the defender of the global system.
The European Union was optimistic after these comments made by Xi Jinping at the World Economic Forum in 2017, especially after the newly elected President Donald Trump made his contempt clear regarding the past trade deals with the EU and other world powers.
At the time, some European leaders thought that China was one step closer to embracing Western values.
Fast forward to a year later, China’s legislature is likely going to abolish the two-term limit for a presidency this week, meaning Xi Jinping could now be in power for the rest of his life.
This has reminded the world that democracy is not something China will be implementing anytime soon.
China is now also being accused of driving a wedge between the EU.
“Instead, many European leaders now accuse China of trying to divide the EU as it woos Central Europe and the Balkan states with large investments. They are also wary of how China has become more aggressive militarily, in espionage and in its investment strategy abroad — with targets including its largest trading partner in Europe, Germany,” writes Today. “For decades the EU has benefited from the global system created by the US after World War II, as has China. Even as Russia under President Vladimir Putin has remained a revanchist power, trying to destabilize the bloc and win back territories lost in the Cold War, China’s economic success has depended on stability and order — which benefited Europe, too.”
With Xi potentially remaining the leader in perpetuity, European leaders are being forced to accept that China doesn’t share Western ideals, even if it has the world’s second largest economy.
“We’re at an inflection point,” said Orville Schell, director of the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society to Today. “The Western world now understands that we have to take China’s push out into the world much more seriously than we have in the past.”
“I don’t know who is still fooling themselves about convergence and liberalisation — Xi put an end to that long ago,” said Franois Godement, a China scholar at Sciences Po in Paris to Today. “Official China has been increasingly frank about a systematic competition with democracies.”
China’s ultimate goal is to have the largest economy and to introduce its own model of world order. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel of Germany said last month that China is trying “to put a Chinese stamp on the world and impose a Chinese system, a real global system but not like ours, based on human rights and individual liberties.”
With its significant investment in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI,) also known as the “Silk Road” project, China hopes to increase its influence beyond Asia, while also promoting economic growth.
The Communist country has tried to desperately sell the idea that the BRI would be a “group effort” that would pay off for all countries involved, but the BRI would help put China at a massive advantage over other world powers including the U.S.
Not to mention, China has repeatedly been accused of stealing the intellectual property of American and European technology companies.
“Chinese companies have also made waves by buying a major German machine-tool and robotics company, Kuka, and then trying to buy a key semiconductor company, Aixtron,” writes Today. “The latter bid was blocked by US objections on security grounds. The sudden purchase last week of nearly 10 percent of Daimler, the iconic German car manufacturer, by a much smaller Chinese car company, Geely, has also raised hackles, and questions about where the money, some US$9 billion, really comes from.”
Germany and France have been pushing the EU to introduce stricter investment screening regulations to protect companies in Europe.
“As the Financial Times has reported, some European officials and business elites share U.S. concerns about Chinese intellectual property theft and forced technology transfer. Yet they remain wary of collaborating on retaliatory measures for fear of undermining the World Trade Organization (a favorite Trump target) or enabling the president’s protectionist impulses,” writes Bloomberg.
Last year, Trump announced the U.S. would be making a “very big move” by starting an investigation into China’s alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property. Then, this week, the U.S. sent a message to China when a U.S. aircraft arrived in Vietnam for the first time since the end of the Vietnam war.
Trump has made it clear that he isn’t afraid to put China on blast and to put America first. This initially led the EU to see Beijing as a hedge against the U.S., but it appears as though the EU’s sentiments may be changing.
Author’s note: Is the EU finally starting to see China for what it is? With more European leaders calling out China, the EU seems to be moving in the right direction.