Europe-China at a crossroads
As our attitude today to China shows, Europe is refusing to recognise the emergence of a multipolar world – and the penalty, sad to say, will be Europe’s own downfall, argues Sevim Dagdelen.
EU-Chinese relations are at a crossroads. The reception for Chinese Premier Li Qiang and the resumption of German-Chinese intergovernmental consultations in Berlin on 20 June cannot conceal the fact. On China as in other matters, Brussels and Berlin seem to be replicating the decisions made in Washington like an echo chamber. There is no prospect of independent European foreign and trade policy, however much Beijing might long for it. As for readying ourselves for a policy of confrontation with China, the EU even appears to be trying to position itself in the vanguard. Yet there is so much at stake.
China is the EU’s largest trading partner, ahead even of the United States. A “controlled decoupling” pursued by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen under the banner of “economic security” would put millions of jobs in Europe on the line. An economically devastating European policy of self-isolation could spell the end of Europe’s model for prosperity and add to the immense impoverishment of ever larger swathes of the population in the EU. Germany is already practically at rock bottom, displaying all the signs of a capitalism succumbing to rot. A state crippled by its own parsimony, and now even taking on massive armaments spending and investment in NATO’s proxy war in Ukraine, is letting infrastructure veritably fall apart. On investment in research and development too, as well as vocational training for skilled workers, Germany is being increasingly side-lined as the heart of the EU economy. And alongside the state, businesses too are failing to invest in productivity growth, which, at 0.3%, has been practically stagnant in Germany since 2012.
The Berliner Zeitung noted on 18 June 2023: “The problem lies in part in the lack of investment by businesses. The big 40 on the DAX index are expected to pay out their highest dividends ever this year. Shareholders can look forward to some EUR 75 billion, according to estimates from private investors association DSW.” The German Trade Union Confederation points out the ever growing shortfall in investment, evidenced by dilapidated infrastructure, to no avail.
And the debate about another escalation is rapidly gathering momentum. In the just adopted 11th EU sanctions package against Russia, three companies based in Hong Kong, China, are also listed for the first time. And yet the internal discussions before read like minutes of the fear that the decision-makers on the Council of the EU have of spiralling sanctions. They are not yet prepared to enter into an economic war with China. The worry is too great that the self-harm could turn out even worse than with the sanctions against Russia. While Germany is tumbling into a recession as a result of the economic war and the high inflation in energy and food prices, Russia is expecting economic growth of more than 2% in 2023. The economic war has become a veritable boomerang. The prevailing impulse is to avoid that happening with China. That is the only explanation for the United States’ diplomatic advances, such as US Secretary of State Blinken’s recent visit to China. In the run-up to the 2024 presidential elections, there is nothing to be gained from economic conflict with Beijing that ends up hurting workers in the United States and plunging the country into a recession.
It is one of the givens of that strategy to send the Europeans into the line of fire and encourage them to engage in economic war with China, well aware of what this will mean for the United States’ allies in Europe, and to have, in US President Joe Biden, a figure at the helm who does not always appear in control of his own words. With his “dictator” remarks just two days after Blinken’s visit, he tore down the diplomatic camouflage that the Secretary of State had been trying to build up.
With a gigantic armaments programme of over USD 1.1 trillion, the United States is trying to challenge China, with its European and Pacific allies in tow. What is particularly striking are the grating double standards that are at play. While a never-ending supply of US military bases are built and expanded in China’s direct environs, such as in Japan and the Philippines, Chinese military bases in Cuba cannot be tolerated because of proximity to the United States.
At the heart of the EU strategy against China, drawn up by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell and the European External Action Service (EEAS) and then approved by all the EU capitals in May 2023, is not only the panorama of a burgeoning economic war against the People’s Republic, but also Europe’s quasi-colonialist view of the country. With a bizarre disregard for the realities of the situation, China is practically commanded to pursue a particular foreign policy vis-à-vis Russia.
While the EU arms Ukraine on a massive scale through the “Peace Facility” (a name worthy of Orwell) and supports NATO’s proxy war by propping up the Ukrainian authorities through billions in steady financing, Beijing is to be told what it can and can’t do in its own foreign policy. Many in Brussels still do not want to accept the end of Western hegemony and still dream the dream of the European colonisers: of a world where one could tell other regions what they should and shouldn’t do.
Europe is refusing to recognise the emergence of a multipolar world – and the penalty, sad to say, will be its own downfall. However, the hubris that shines through in the EU’s China strategy is fed not only by the colonial past but also arises from its vassalage – from the unconditional belief that we can rely on the hegemon, the United States, in all circumstances. From the nonsensical conviction that we share identical interests and that the United States would not pursue its own interests at the expense of the people of Europe.
Just as a dog on its master’s lead feels bigger and more powerful, people seem to think we can teach China what’s what. It is evidently part of the cynicism of that power strategy to trample all over liberty in the West, torturing someone like journalist Julian Assange and trying to bury him alive because he made US war crimes public. It seems as if the EU as a whole has taken its cue from the Britain of Tony Blair and Boris Johnson and sees its only future in blindly uncritical fealty to the United States. Its governments are pushing through a brutally interest-driven politics in favour of US industry, despite this leading to immense harm for their own people and devastating involvement in the never-ending supply of US military conflicts and economic wars.
The populations of the EU, in contrast, have a vital interest in ending the current economic wars and not entering into any fresh spirals of sanctions. It has become clear that Europe’s social and economic future is being flippantly put at risk. And we have an interest in not allowing our social resources to be incinerated in a colossal arms drive. To realise the interests of workers in the West for a good life, we need an alliance with the Global South; we need dialogue, cooperation and respect for democratic sovereignty.
Sevim Dagdelen is a member of the German Bundestag’s Committee on Foreign Affairs