The ‘Power Audit’ of EU-China

3 min read

In Dec 2017, the European Council on Foreign Relations published a Power Audit report on China’s influence, named as “China at the gates”.

It is a very long essay with lots of details. In the summary, it says “China practises ‘pick and choose’ in its relations with the European Union, focusing on its direct interests, and often ignoring EU norms in its proposals.

It has vastly increased efforts to strengthen bilateral relations with member states, putting special emphasis on Europe’s periphery. China holds its own summit with central and eastern European nations, the so-called 16+1, and it seized the opportunity of the euro crisis for massive takeovers in southern Europe.

Fascinatingly, its offers and their packaging are not very different from those offered to African and other developing nations: a flurry of projects creating competition among recipients, loans at commercial rates, and a strong insistence on identical statements and agreements…”

“… Europe is turning to realist engagement with China … This is not a turn to protectionism. Europe seeks engagement rather than confrontation, but mist also gear up for a China that is presently unresponsive to its requests. To do this, this Power Audit of EU-China relations proposes the following priorities:

[a] Complete the construction of an EU—wide system of investment screening
[b] Replace dispersion with common strategies
[c] Prevent new investment rules from affecting other aspects of the relationship
[d] Leverage our like-minded partners in Asia.”

If compared to the United States’ National Security Strategy (Dec 2017) and National Defense Strategy (Jan 2018) in which China is named as a “rival power” and a “competitor” as the top threat respectively, the Europeans are very friendly already. While it is up to each individual to judge whether China’s investment terms are fair (similar to the African terms), at least two points have to be noted.

Firstly, is it wrong for China to practice ‘pick and choose’? Most nations in western Europe are wealthy ones, and there is no reason for them to rely on China whatsoever. Instead, they need to ask why their eastern neighbors, say, Poland, Hungary, Romania and Greece, tend to befriend with China and accept China’s investments. The Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989 and the Soviet Union collapsed in Dec 1991.

For almost 30 years, what and how much the wealthy western European nations have been doing for their white peers inside the same continent? Investments in infrastructure? Rarely. Investments in manufacturing? Very little. Fostering basic education and skill training? Almost none. Resisting eastern Europeans to come to do the grassroots donkey work in downtown? Quite so. Exporting radical right-wing thoughts? A lot.

Secondly, there is a short answer to the many questions raised above. As what it admits: China “seized the opportunity of the euro crisis…” It was not China who gave you a euro crisis. It was your own greed that fertilized a predatory capitalism and so on. Many western European countries benefited greatly from the overseas expansion during the colonial era but their eastern brothers did not. Now they have trouble but you do so little to help, then saying China “pick and choose”.

For ideological differences, the liberal western Europeans are justified to criticize the authoritarian Chinese on many fronts. But do not forget that even China (a socialist regime) distances itself from the right-wing thoughts which can be quite racist, and China’s main purpose is simply to seek economic growth for all. Steady growth in turn reduces the right-wing parties’ public appeal. So, what the EU’s top worry is not China, but the taming of predatory capitalism.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

Tony Simon

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