Europe must avoid wishful thinking about China in 2023 | Popgen Tech
It’s worth digesting to see how the tone has changed since Vladimir Putin’s troops crossed into Ukraine in late February. The attack came less than three weeks after Chinese leader Xi Jinping declared a “no limits” partnership with Russia that amounts to a blueprint for remaking the rules-based international order. After the invasion, Beijing pretended to be neutral and reiterated its respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty. But it has consistently refused to criticize Russia. Officials blamed the US for the conflict and state media echoed its pro-Moscow narrative, while excluding reports of Ukrainian suffering. It is clear where the Chinese government’s sympathies lie.
China’s Communist Party has never hidden its hostility to the liberal values that underpin the US-led world order, although that antipathy has gained greater openness and confidence under Xi. For Europe, which has witnessed the largest military conflict on its soil since the end of World War II, China’s de facto support for Russian aggression has given a new level of reality to that clash of values. Perhaps the most striking expression of the shift in consciousness it has caused comes from European Commission Vice President Josep Borrell, who called it a “dialogue of the deaf” in a speech after April’s EU-China summit. The 75-year-old former Spanish foreign minister continued:
China wanted to put aside our difference about Ukraine – they didn’t want to talk about Ukraine. They did not want to talk about human rights, and other issues, and instead focus on the positive things. The European side has made it clear that this “compartmentalization” is not feasible, not acceptable. For us, the war in Ukraine is a defining moment for whether we live in a world governed by rules or by violence. That is the question. We condemn the Russian aggression against Ukraine and support this country’s sovereignty and democracy – not because we blindly follow the US, as China sometimes suggests, but because this is our own position, our sincere position, we believe in it. This was an important message for the Chinese leadership to hear.
Compare that impassioned statement of European principle with the remarks of French President Emmanuel Macron after his meeting with Xi at the Group of 20 meeting in Bali in November. Macron said he was convinced that China could play “a more important mediation role” in Ukraine in the coming months. At the subsequent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum in Thailand, he appealed to Beijing and urged Europe to take a middle course between the “two big elephants” of the US and China.
This will have given satisfaction to Xi, who also met Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Italy’s Giorgia Meloni in Bali. China has concentrated efforts to drive a wedge between Europe and the US, and tensions over Washington’s green energy incentives and semiconductor restrictions have given it an economic opening. Macron aims to visit Beijing in the new year, following in the footsteps of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who took a delegation of top business executives to the Chinese capital in early November.
All of this will be unsettling to those who see China’s position on Ukraine as fundamentally changing the security equation for Europe (Chinese officials, including Xi, have expressed periodic unease over the course of the war, though they have never given up their pro-Russian stance ). Days before his trip to Beijing, Scholz’s government agreed to sell a stake in a Hamburg port terminal to China’s state-owned Cosco Shipping Holdings Co. to sell – a decision that put Germany’s leader at odds with his economy, foreign affairs, finance, transport and defense ministers. , as well as the country’s security services.
In early December, Scholz wrote a 5,000-word article in the US magazine Foreign Affairs that said the world was facing a Zeitenwende, or an epochal tectonic shift, as a result of Russia’s war on Ukraine. The piece exposed Putin’s aggression and defiance of the principles of the UN Charter, and contained some moving affirmations of democratic values in the face of authoritarian challenges. Scholz devoted a section to China, saying its growing power does not justify claims to hegemony in Asia and criticizing the country’s turn away from openness. But, he wrote, the rise of China does not justify the isolation of Beijing or the suppression of cooperation. Not a single sentence in this long essay puts China and Russia together, or addresses Beijing’s position on Ukraine. It looks a lot like the compartmentalization that was unacceptable to Borrell in April.
The EU and China have a trade relationship of $700 billion. Such a large economic entanglement makes it necessary to talk and cooperate, whenever possible. However, the tone of some European leaders suggests a view of Beijing that seems distinctly outdated: a regime that is, nominally, an ideological rival, but one that can be sidelined and lured by trade and investment links . This is reminiscent of how Germany once viewed Putin’s Russia. We know how that worked out. There will be no excuses for repeating the mistake.
More from Bloomberg Opinion:
Hamburg’s China Fudge adds another notch to Xi’s belt: Matthew Brooker
After Scholz in China, Look out for Macron in America: Lionel Laurent
Vladimir Putin’s Guide to Alienating Allies: Clara Ferreira Marques
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editors or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Matthew Brooker is a Bloomberg opinion columnist covering finance and politics in Asia. A former editor and bureau chief for Bloomberg News and deputy business editor for the South China Morning Post, he is a CFA charter.
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