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Even if Europe wants to secede from China after Coved, it cannot

However, the measures taken by China since the epidemic began did not lead to a conclusion in Brussels that it was time for Europe to cool down on China.

Despite accusations of covering up the disease early, spreading wrong information and its controversial “disguised diplomacy” – by which the Chinese state exported medical supplies such as masks and dresses when the virus struck Europe in the hope of winning public relations, although this yielded results Inversely in some cases, multiple personalities from both member states and European Union institutions have told CNN that the outbreak has already reinforced the fact that engagement with China is more important than ever. These sources have not been authorized to speak on record of a policy that has not yet been adopted.

Logic works this way: the current priorities of the European Union are managing its recovery from the coronavirus, economically and strategically; To become a serious geopolitical player; Strengthening the European economy; And being a world leader in the climate crisis.

It is widely accepted in Brussels that expanding ties with China plays a role in each of these. Officials believe that Chinese participation is necessary if the world wants to understand the virus and learn the correct lessons from the outbreak. China’s massive wealth and willingness to invest is clearly a very attractive opportunity for the faltering EU economies. If the climate crisis is to be controlled at any time, then the place to start is the world’s largest polluter. By embarking on a delicate path between the United States and China, Europe creates a unique role for it on the international stage, giving it diplomatic independence from Washington.

However, the epidemic has refocused attention on other issues related to China that European leaders were willing to overlook, including imprisoning up to a million Muslim Uighurs in the country’s western Xinjiang region, industrial espionage and the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong. .

Uncomfortably, the reminder came just months before the European Union and China meeting is scheduled for a pivotal summit in September to boost their future ties. It might have been unfortunate that Covid-19 postponed this meeting.

“The epidemic was a wake-up call to member countries that were sleeping toward the September China summit, blinded by the brilliance of Chinese money,” said Stephen Blockmans, head of foreign policy at the Center for European Policy Studies. “The coverage in Wuhan and the publication of misinformation have undermined China’s position as to how reliable a partner it can be for Europe.”

This puts Europe in a tight position. On the one hand, you have to do business with Beijing. On the other hand, it should more conveniently acknowledge that China is a systemic competitor that cannot be fully trusted. At the present time, the European Union maintains this position.

“By necessity we have a complex relationship with China. It is both a partner and a competitor,” said a senior European diplomat, who is not authorized to clarify a position that the entire European Union has not adopted.

Europe and China have converged over the past three decades, with both sides finding it impossible to ignore the temptation of the other’s economic strength. With the growth of China after the economic meltdown, Chinese money seemed more attractive to European economies. While cooperation with Beijing has always been accompanied by security risks and disputes over the fundamental issues of democracy, the benefit has been largely considered worthwhile.

While the European Union sees its complex position on China as a diplomatic advantage, it risks complicating matters with two of its closest allies in the near future: the United Kingdom and the United States.

Last year, the Boris Johnson government controversially agreed that Chinese telecom giant Huawei could build up to 35% of the UK’s 5G infrastructure, despite massive pressure from Washington.

At the time, the debate was over whether to leave the British vulnerable to Chinese espionage. “From the UK’s point of view, 5G is no longer a pure conversation about risk management, but it is part of a wider geopolitical issue,” said Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former British Foreign Secretary. Rifkind believes that China’s main foreign policy was “threatening countries that disagree with China’s view on how to act,” and that governments now “cannot only separate their behavior in Coved, Hong Kong and imprisoned Uighurs.”

Huawei’s decision is currently under review, and a senior British official familiar with the review process has told CNN it is “fair to say it doesn’t look good to Huawei.” The official was not allowed to speak on the record.

The UK has also taken a very firm line on Hong Kong, saying it will provide a path of citizenship to millions of Hong Kong as China prepares to impose a tough new national security law on the city.

Of course, this transformation in London has seen a huge win by the Chinese hawks in Washington, who, under the guidance of President Donald Trump, have been running nails since 2016. With the UK now in its foreground, the United States may be good encouraged to hit China more strongly .

“It will be difficult for the European Union to ignore US calls for sanctions and disengagement,” said Blockmans. “Even governments will try to pass it [the US] The elections are over. But if the next administration adopts secondary sanctions as Trump did with Iran, the European Union will have to find new ways to protect its independence in international affairs.

This autonomy remains very precious to the European Union. “There is a clear desire by the European Union not to become a tool for American diplomacy and to find our own way of dealing with China,” the EU diplomat said. However, the diplomat also admits that Brussels cannot act as “naively” as it did in the aftermath of the eurozone crisis, when European economies exhausted by Chinese direct investment and their takeover of failed companies – and Europe opened their markets without securing security guarantees from Among other things. “

“I think we, with Kofid, may have come close to a common European understanding of what China is and how it behaves,” said Lucrezia Poggetti, an analyst at the Mercator Institute of China Studies. “The behavior of the Chinese government in times of crisis raised eyebrows in Europe by its attempts to play European countries against each other and undermine democracies, For example through misinformation. He added that with its increasing prominence in national political debates, Europeans may reach a deeper understanding of China.

Four European Union officials especially admit that they regret being more assertive with China. “We are the number one market in the world and we now have to use that as a lever when dealing with China,” said an EU diplomat involved in Brussels’ foreign policy.

Blockmans believes they can move forward and use assets such as the European Union’s lucrative single market and the laws it supervises access to as a lever in negotiations: “The union should expand its global strategy and use international and EU law more defensively in its interests and advance its security goals towards both China and the United States. ”

All of this can be very complicated. In spite of everything, the European Union’s main international goal is to balance its relations between the United States and China by engaging with the latter – which it recognizes as a systemic competitor – at risk of arousing the former. It would be difficult for any global force to withdraw. When you remember that the European Union is made up of 27 member states, and they all have the same say in this matter, they have the power to detonate.

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Currently, almost all member states are in the same place, agreeing that Chinese participation is necessary but should take place with greater attention to the reality that China is a regular competitor.

But the blame game after the epidemic pointing the finger at China could turn some countries into bigger hawks, while propaganda publishing a pro-China novel has already proven effective in more skeptical countries in Europe. Historically, Beijing has been good at picking member states sympathetic to the Chinese position, especially the less wealthy eastern European countries and populist governments in Italy and Austria.

If thinking among member states begins to drift in the coming months, the eminent figures in Brussels may need to put their ambitions on the ice for a short time.

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