Is such unity possible when the US presses European allies to unite in their rebuking of Beijing?
By Timur Fomenko, a political analyst
Since the conflict in Ukraine began, there has been a concerted effort to try and establish greater ‘transatlantic’ control over European foreign policy, or to speak more explicitly, to put it in line with that of the United States. America’s foreign influence operations on the continent are huge, ranging from an army of funded think tanks, to associated journalists, to of course politicians. It is little surprise that the situation with Russia has weaved into the longstanding effort to get Europe to also conform to America’s preferences on China, too, and dismantle the ‘Merkel legacy’ of engagement with Beijing, which is what makes the China-EU summit on Friday such a critical juncture. It is inevitable that newspapers such as the Financial Times have sought to frame this event in solely negative narratives for Beijing, running a story titled: ‘Russia’s invasion of Ukraine forges new unity of EU purpose on China’ and forecasting a tougher European stance on China which will attempt to ‘pressure’ it to disavow Moscow.
This illusion is not reality. While Europe may say and do things differently, they often try to present unity regardless of the consequences. In practice, the EU does not in fact have the political will, unity, or means anymore to comprehensively force Beijing to do anything, who in turn has reaffirmed that its strategic partnership with Russia continues to be of “no limits.” Not only, for that matter, is the EU’s apparent unity on Russia, which the Financial Times piece attempts to frame as “surprising” for Beijing, significantly exaggerated, but it seems even less plausible that the bloc has the political resolve to endure the pain of a head-on collision against a much stronger economic partner such as China, which is now larger than the entire EU in terms of nominal GDP. Either way, it seems clear that the pathway of aligning with American foreign policy interests is going to make Europe weaker, poorer, and less relevant than ever before – typical of the self-sabotage it has often imposed on itself at the behest of Washington.
The approach of Western nations towards China over Ukraine is increasingly that of having their cake and eating it too – Beijing is presented as an adversary, a competitor, and a rival; it is depicted constantly with suspicion, disdain, and scepticism in the mainstream media. There is a move to try and militarize its entire surroundings, with the United States urging European countries to adopt ‘Indo-Pacific’ strategies, send warships into the South China Sea, and support Taiwan, whilst relations with it are portrayed as a binary struggle for dominance between authoritarianism and liberal democracy. In the two-year period, China’s goodwill has been limited. While most Europeans have not performed at the same level with the English-speaking countries, it is evident that the US has tried to change the course of events through its influence channels. China, despite all this, is expected to continue cooperating with the West in various matters that serve their interests. This can often be done on the backs of threats.
On such a stance, it is obvious that China will continue seeing its strategic partnership Russia as important and multifaceted. When the West clearly shows no interest or goodwill towards China, why would Beijing put Moscow under the bus? Beijing has the right to protect its interests and options accordingly. This does not necessarily mean that China endorses the current situation in Ukraine. It also doesn’t mean it condemns it as requested by certain countries. China’s hedging is both prudent and strategic – it would be naïve to trust the US and its allies. Beijing can demand high prices for any assistance or favors in this area.
Do you think Europe wants peace negotiations? Then, for example, furthering the China-EU comprehensive investment agreement (CAI) must be part of it, or ending Lithuania’s ludicrous adventurism regarding Taiwan. It is important to note that, despite the rhetoric being tough, the EU isn’t in a strong position right now to push back. Germany’s annual economic growth forecast has been cut to just 1.8% as its disastrous energy policies begin to take their toll, whilst inflation has reached a record of nearly 10% in Spain. The EU can’t afford to threaten or punish China. It is unlikely that every EU country will support this. Not a chance.
China, despite its political rhetoric, will approach the EU summit with shrewdness and practicality, using the opportunity to show that it is not trying to disrupt the process. Europe, of course, may not be amicable or friendly to China as it once was, given the influences exerted on it, but that’s a different ballgame altogether than being unified or having the space to push back against Beijing as a bloc, given it can scarcely do so with Moscow. But ultimately, if European countries want real results here, they’re going to have to be willing to give at least as much a they take in their approach to China and stop believing in the transatlantic fantasies. It is time to ask the question: Do they really have strategic autonomy? They might decide to end win-win cooperation with large trading partners, in an effort to satisfy Washington’s demands. It’s very much crunch time.
Statements, opinions and views expressed in this column do not reflect those of RT.