A shorter version of this article was published by Newsmax.
It’s official now: China is the European Union’s largest trading partner. It has surpassed the United States. Beijing is happy. China understands Europe well and, consequently, has been busy cozying up to the Europeans collectively and to each nation-state individually.
The Europeans dream about “a fair and reciprocal relationship” with China. Good luck. The Middle Kingdom knows no reciprocity with the barbarians. It fights the barbarians with other barbarians. Hence, Beijing’s moves in the EU are calculated to sic the Europeans on the Americans.
Unfortunately, Brussels aka Berlin believes that everything is under control. In fact, one can sense that Germany, which wags the EU dog, has spotted an opportunity to assert its independence further vis-à-vis the U.S.
While a geopolitical nightmare for America, Berlin’s strategic alliance with Moscow and Beijing is indispensable for the Federal Republic to shake off the legacy of defeat stemming from the Second World War. Germany is not quite ready to take a decisive step. However, it is increasingly frustrated with the constraints that the U.S. imposes upon it.
Berlin does not appreciate, for example, any sanctions Washington slaps on offending parties, say, for romancing Huawei. Conversely, the Germans resent those Europeans, like the Czechs, who shun or even ban the Chinese company from doing business in G5.
Generally, northern Europeans follow Germany’s lead on China, including communications. They all admit there are security concerns, but they try to find a way to accommodate their Far Eastern partners. Some, like Sweden’s Ericksson, had vested interests, having invested heavily in cooperation with the Chinese. It took the Swedes, the Dutch, and others to take appropriate action. But Finland’s Nokia has distanced itself from the Chinese communists, and Helsinki’s parliament has been more than standoffish toward Beijing.
The French obfuscate, trying to have their cake and eat it too. So, as far as Huawei, Paris says yes to Chinese supplies, but no to Chinese control of the vital communications infrastructure. The Italians are much more flexible: they will typically do business with anyone, whether it’s Beijing or Moscow. Publicly, Rome oscillates between threats and condemnations; behind the scenes, it less than stringent.
Now out of the EU, The Brits kicked Huawei out; and so did the Poles, who remain behind. But both would like to do business with China, whenever possible. The same goes for nearly everyone else in Europe, including the Intermarium, the lands between the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic seas.
The Chinese have been making inroads there for a while now. They animate the so-called “17+1” group. It consists of most of the Intermarium countries, starting with Greece in the south, 5 western Balkan nations, and 11 Central and Eastern European members of the EU. The “17+1” is a perfect lobbying forum for the Chinese communists.
Consequently, they have a trade hub in Slovakia and Hungary; they have pushed to control a Vietnamese trading center outside of Warsaw. They woo the central and eastern Europeans with infrastructural investments and a specter of the riches of the new “Silk Route.”
It is not smooth sailing for Beijing, though. For example, after much trepidation and hope for a strategic realignment, Poland resolved to stick with the United States and ditch China’s overtures. Lithuania has recently announced its intention to establish a trade mission in Taiwan. In addition, Vilnius has banned Beijing’s Nuctech scanning equipment from its airports as a security threat. The Lithuanians further signaled their unwillingness to continue to deal with China within the “17+1” framework. They prefer either unilateral talks or negotiations with the EU. All that sure has infuriated the Chinese communists. And so did Estonia’s intelligence annual report naming the Chinese as a major security threat in cyber technologies.
Further, the Intermarium nations have denied Chinese companies the right to bid on government contracts by canceling tenders or preventing them from investments and contracts there. In each case, the states involved both national security concerns and lackluster performance of Chinese regime contractors. To add insult to injury, some of the canceled tenders concern the prestigious Belt and Road Initiative.
Moreover, whereas Lithuania and Romania canceled China’s eligibility for tenders in most public offerings, Czechia, Croatia, and Slovenia excluded Beijing from transportation infrastructure and nuclear industry. Even Greece has entertained second thoughts about its majority stake stranglehold on the nation’s prime port of Piraeus.
All this upset not only the Chinese but also the Western Europeans in general, and the Germans in particular, who have made the engagement with both China and Russia a cornerstone of their new strategic pivot away from America.
The recent setbacks notwithstanding, a large part of China’s success in the Intermarium stems from a misguided dream of the natives to use Beijing to balance Moscow. Some former post-Soviet satellites delude themselves that they can form a strategic partnership, perhaps even a permanent alliance, with China. It is like a fly, while riding on a tiger’s nose, fantasizing that it leads the brute animal.
The Ukrainians learned the hard way when they falsely hoped that the Chinese presence on the Crimean Peninsula would offer protection from Russia. Once Moscow invaded and took over in 2014, Beijing proceeded to do business with the new masters as if nothing had happened.
In a word: whenever the Chinese are involved, European nations try various tackles. Understandably always with profit and national interest in mind, they endeavor to make a buck with China trade, while accommodating the United States, a feat not always possible.
“One belt, one road, one world” – a student of mine has cracked a joke, as in “One Reich, One Volk, One Fuehrer.” Not so fast: the Chinese communists have not gobbled up the Old Continent yet. They have been at it for a while, albeit with mixed results. The most worrisome is Germany’s growing assertiveness away from Atlanticism, however.
Time for the U.S. to counteract China’s moves and calm the Germans down. The least we can do is try to reward our friends in the Intermarium. As a friend of mine has put it: “we should be pitching student visas and work visas to Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians instead of the Chinese. That way we could encourage our allies to master our technology – instead of letting our enemies steal it.”
My response: “That would be too logical, Spock.” But it would not hurt to try.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz
5 March 2021