European countries ignored warnings about Vladimir Putin as he expanded energy and military leverage on the continent. Will they learn from the experience?
The virtual meeting between top European Union officials and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday should be instructive. Beijing wants the event to revive talks on a stalled EU-China investment deal. Brussels says “the main focus of the summit will be the war in Ukraine” and the “dramatic humanitarian crisis caused by Russia’s aggression”.
Beijing claims neutrality in the Ukraine war, but rejects sanctions against Russia. The State Department and state media outlets routinely blame NATO for the war while saying they want a peaceful solution. Meanwhile, Russian and Chinese propaganda spread conspiracy theories about US-funded bioweapons programs in Ukraine.
As frank as Mr Putin has been about his imperial ambitions, so is Mr Xi’s China. “There is no upper limit for cooperation between China and Russia,” a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday. “And no ceiling for us to resist hegemony.” Mr. Xi will talk about diplomacy, peace and win-win security solutions, but don’t expect much substance from the meeting.
China’s support for Russia is the most serious, but by no means the only reason why Europe is losing patience. Beijing has launched an economic war against EU member Lithuania over its expanded ties with Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party’s human rights record remains abysmal. Bullying behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic and blocking the origin investigation damaged China’s credibility. The question is what Europe will do beyond convictions, token sanctions and the occasional lawsuit.
Europeans point out that the US led the way in deepening economic ties with China, and the hope for change through trade was both American and German. That’s fair, but it’s no excuse to accommodate an increasingly hostile China now. Mr. Xi has made clear that working with Russia and other revanchist powers to overthrow the US-led international order is a key aspiration.
Some Europeans are hopeless. “We are very, very far from considering the threat from China on the same level as Russia,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday. “It is not in our interest to incline Russia towards China to create a grand alliance of China and other like-minded countries.”
But it is in Europe’s interest not to leave itself vulnerable to Chinese economic blackmail over supply chains, critical minerals and corporate investment. Smart companies are already looking for safer investment opportunities outside of China without government coercion. According to a new survey by the Ifo Institute, almost half of the German manufacturers who “procure essential inputs from China” have announced that they will reduce their dependence on China.
Diversifying sources of medical supplies and rare earth minerals and other strategically important commodities is a sound policy. If China invades Taiwan, does Europe really want to be even more vulnerable than it is now with Russia?
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