European Union’s China challenge

Time EU woke up to threat posed by the Asian giant

Politics

June 7, 2021

/ By / Brussels

European Union’s China challenge

European Union has labeled China a “systemic rival” and “economic competitor”

The world is watching China as the country tries to revise the world order to suit its economic and political ambitions, and as it plays "Ping-Pong" in its foreign policy, there is hardening of China policy of some countries. However, it is time that democratic nations should come together to address their shared concerns.

With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world was already a dangerous place and today it has become more dangerous as even after 16 months into the worst global health crisis in over a century, we still do not know the source of the pandemic. However, there are some encouraging developments. Once dismissed as conspiracy theory, the hypothesis that Covid-19 outbreak is the result of a leak in a lab, has picked up more adherents. The world cannot afford to eliminate the lab escape theory given the lack of Chinese transparency, and its foot-dragging on an investigation, its secrecy and deception. There is a growing body of evidence that the (Wuhan) lab is likely the most credible source of the virus and now, scientific experts are joining the chorus, warning of more dangerous viruses if the alleged real origins are not revealed.

As terrible as Covid-19 has been, this is almost certainly not the last pandemic we will face – and possibly not even the worst – and therefore understanding the origins of the pandemic is essential to addressing human vulnerabilities and preventing future crises.

If the investigation agencies in the US comes out with definite conclusion that a single laboratory and a few scientists are responsible for one of the greatest human catastrophes in generations, it will certainly ignite a global diplomatic firestorm with unpredictable dimension. No enemy of human rights, or of environment, or of a realistic approach to living in a democratic world on this planet is friendless so long China is given space to enhance its trade and influence.

EU’s misplaced strategy 

Policymakers are increasingly alarmed by dictatorial, expansionist and assertive China and they are devising new means to protect their own systems of government, their economic prosperity, and national security interests.

The European Union has labeled China a “systemic rival” and “economic competitor”, reflecting hardening attitudes toward Beijing across Europe. Even after years of being an important trade partner of the EU, there is no change in Chinese practices of limited market access for foreign firms, its industrial policies that explicitly displace international competitors, and preferential treatment for state-owned enterprises. These developments have pushed European countries like Germany and France to proactively prioritise their own development.

But beyond this, is the EU sufficiently adapted to address China threat? No, it is living in borrowed promises and broken accords.

EU’s opportunity in enforcing ethics in scientific research     

Debate over the issue of ethical safeguards in scientific research will further gain momentum. The EU is at its best when setting standards and it is high time it takes the lead, together with international community, in developing a mechanism for enforcing international scientific research safeguards and how to operate in countries like China which lacks a good regulatory and ethical review process, and where they cannot be enforced reasonably. On its own, the EU has economic and regulatory powers to enforce, but these are slow-moving and not effective.

The emergence of an unprecedented threat in the propaganda sphere by China evolving out of the turmoil related to the Covid-19 pandemic is worrying. It is no secret that the Chinese Communist Party’s massive information control system and opportunism has contributed to the catastrophic spread of Covid-19 globally. This disinformation campaign poses new challenges to Europe’s national security interests, and if the EU is to turn back this tide of malign mistruths and conspiracy theories, it must greatly increase its preparedness and efforts to counter it.

CAI and danger of industrial espionage

When China signed the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with EU last year, few knew the reason behind China’s keenness to accept many of EU’s demands but now it is slowly becoming clear that the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment is an attempt by China to draw attention away from issues such as secrecy about the pandemic, China’s egregious human rights record, including the brute force Beijing has been using against the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Sanctions by China on European lawmakers is laughable and, in this respect, European Parliament’s decision to freeze the deal speaks the “mood of the Union” against a repressive and arrogant China. The country is aggressively pushing for strategic and economic advantage, and it will use the CAI as an economic tool to enhance its influence in Europe. Also, the EU cannot afford to ignore the history that China has broken trade and investment promises with many countries. China has already established its espionage base in the EU countries and there is a danger that more the business collaboration, more is the danger of increasing Chinese industrial espionage in the EU countries.

Over European Union’s 70 years of exceptional history, Member States of the EU have risen to the challenge of protecting and furthering the Union’s founding principles and defeating existential threats to Europe’s liberties. Today, this is challenged by a virulent and increasingly dangerous threat to human freedom by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through the nation it misrules; the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The investment treaty with the EU will give China and its party apparatus a “Free Pass” to weaken the role of European democratic norms and overturn vital economic and other components of order from which China itself has benefitted for decades. The EU has for long recognised China as the authoritarian competitive threat and although it has long been a staple of politics in Europe, some EU countries have been soft on doing business with Beijing. It is disturbing that some Member countries have been hedging, improving relations with China, and pulling their punches inside the EU.

Manufactured chaos

As democracies show cracks and authoritarian regimes gain strength, the global balance of power is shifting to a world where authoritarian regimes are setting rules for new global challenges, especially in information, technological, and in some cases economic spaces. China is using economic and technological tools once thought to be democratising forces, it is undermining and eroding democratic institutions while enabling the growth of more authoritarian governance systems.

This manufactured chaos against democracy is threatening years of gains for European values. China has done more than any country to endanger world peace. All by itself it has destabilised the world order, has singularly poisoned alliances, and torn up treaties, and by its expansionist policy the country has displayed its scant respect for integrity of sovereign countries. The Chinese Communist Party aims not merely at preeminence within the established world order but to fundamentally revise it, placing the People’s Republic of China at the centre and serving Beijing’s authoritarian goals and hegemonic ambitions in the Indo-Pacific. To secure the type of international support that will be necessary to influence Chinese behavior, the EU will need to demonstrate a level of focus in strategic thinking, resources, and coordination with partners and allies.

EU-India relations matter

In this respect, the Joint Statement of the EU-India Leaders’ Meeting held last month is a watershed moment in the EU-India relations, as several important elements of global challenge and how to strengthen and deepen cooperation in every sector for the benefit of global stability, has been addressed.

The EU should be prepared to confront China until Beijing changes its behavior on a wide range of well-known and longstanding concerns. These include discriminatory trade barriers, forced technology transfer, intellectual property theft, militarisation of outposts in the South China Sea, reduces tension on LAC with India, pressure on Taiwan, human rights and religious freedom, government-sponsored cyber-enabled economic espionage, and Chinese interference in other countries’ political systems. It is not only the Covid-19 which is haunting the world order, it is the rise and arrogance of dictatorial China.

 

-Sunil Prasad is secretary general of the Europe India Chamber of Commerce and lives in Brussels.

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