The split between Western and Eastern Europe has compromised the EU’s emergence as a credible strategic actor on issues relating to China
Shortly after his plane took off for Paris, Chinese warships and aircraft encircled Taiwan in mock drills that simulated precision attacks on the renegade island.However, the problem for Europe goes far beyond Macron’s antics. In the run-up to her trip to China with Macron, von der Leyen spoke about the need for “de-risking” from the Chinese economy; in other words, limiting Europe's interdependence with China in strategic and critical sectors. Just hours after EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell’s latest blog on China conditioned Europe’s future relationship with China on its “behaviour”, Beijing arrested two human rights activists making their way to the EU embassy for a meeting. Yet, while Brussels adopts a more practical and sensible approach towards China, the old established powers in Western Europe still seem to value economic ties with Beijing, even in strategic sectors. Last year, Germany allowed the Chinese shipping company, COSCO, to invest in its largest port in Hamburg. Macron, on his trip to China, was accompanied by a delegation of over 50 CEOs, including energy giant, EDF; rail transport manufacturer, Alstom; and plane-maker, Airbus. Just before Macron, Sanchez signed agreements with the Chinese in the pharmaceuticals and renewable energies sectors. Meanwhile, on the front lines of Russia's imperialist conquest, Eastern Europe has taken a rather different tone. Shortly after Macron's China trip, Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki went to the United States (US), where, in a thinly veiled dig at Macron, he called for deeper strategic ties with Washington instead of strategic autonomy. That comes on the back of a sustained effort from other countries in the Central and Eastern European region, who view the US as critical to their security, to adopt a more hawkish stand on China.
The Czech Republic got a new president, Petr Pavel. After his electoral victory in January, Pavel held a short phone call with Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen who congratulated him on his win.Last month, the Czech Republic got a new president, Petr Pavel. After his electoral victory in January, Pavel held a short phone call with Taiwan's president Tsai Ing-wen who congratulated him on his win. “It is definitely in our interest to retain active business and maybe also scientific relations with Taiwan,” he said. Elsewhere, Lithuania has long been at loggerheads with Beijing after it allowed Taiwan to open a representative office in its capital city and refused to baulk after China imposed economic censures in retaliation. Despite succeeding in formulating a unified response towards Russia, the split between Western and Eastern Europe has compromised the EU’s emergence as a credible strategic actor on issues relating to China. Undoubtedly, the optics of Europe’s most powerful leaders hopping onto planes to Beijing, one after the other, right after Xi releases his so-called peace proposal do not bode well. Following Sanchez, Macron, and von der Leyen; German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited China and attempted some damage control, describing a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait as a “horror scenario”. Yet, the problem is a much deeper one. Europe’s China policy increasingly reeks of ambiguity—unclear on whether Beijing is a systemic rival, partner, or competitor. This mixed messaging has the potential to dilute trust amongst Europe’s key partners such as the US, which is looking after European security, and India, which is dealing with its own tensions relating to Chinese aggression at its borders. Of note here is that France is Europe’s dominant military power in the Indo-Pacific region where Europe is increasingly partnering with like-minded nations towards stabilising the region, and Macron’s recent comments only serve to diminish European credibility. Within Germany’s traffic-light coalition government, opinions on engagement with China widely differ with Baerbock’s Greens party toeing Brussels’ more hardline stance than Scholz’s more moderate approach. Europe’s ambiguity also plays straight into China and Russia's hands by driving a wedge in transatlantic relations as well as within the EU—both of which are key strategic objectives for Beijing and Moscow.
Despite succeeding in formulating a unified response towards Russia, the split between Western and Eastern Europe has compromised the EU’s emergence as a credible strategic actor on issues relating to China.In the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis and President Vladimir Putin's use of energy supplies as a weapon, there was a sense that Europe was learning the costs of depending heavily on countries that don't share its values. But in China, that lesson has been lost again, making the EU all the more vulnerable once more. The EU is ultimately the sum of its member states, which means that when the east and the west pull in different directions, they lead to chaos and fragility. This is a problem that Europe's leaders need to fix quickly.
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Shairee Malhotra is Associate Fellow, Europe with ORF’s Strategic Studies Programme. Her areas of work include Indian foreign policy with a focus on EU-India relations, ...Read More +