Theodoros Benakis

Beijing’s interests threaten EU-China summit

Flickr/bilderkombinat berlin/CC BY 2.0
A photo titled 'Chinese transparency'.

After years of reciprocal declarations of love and faith, EU-China relations entered crisis mode. It could have been prevented.

Up to now, the European Union has not considered China as a potential threat. Many EU member states proved themselves easily mesmerised by the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. Unfortunately, they underestimated the dangers that an unconditional opening to China presents.

As a whole, the EU did not consider it necessary to evaluate a common policy towards China. As a result, this left its most powerful member states to implement bilateral agreements with the Asian giant.

The result was a huge penetration of Chinese goods into the heart of the EU’s interests, and in such a way that China is now considered a major threat.

This is because China understood the weakness of Europe and made sure to maximise its potential advantage. What is more, Beijing reacted furiously to every European attempt to pose the questions of the infringement of human rights in China and to defend persecuted Chinese citizens.

As the 5G network affair in Germany has shown, Europe already depends on China. Last year, Polish authorities unveiled a case of cyber spying. But this is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

China understood the weakness of Europe and made sure to maximise its potential advantage

The role that China’s Confucius Institutes have played in spying and in suppressing any attempt to defend human rights issues has been revealed in recent months.

Now, Chinese investments in Europe – part of these is the cyber security issue, the trade relations with EU member states and the lack of any concept of human rights in China are in question.

This is why there is a dark shadow hanging over the EU-China summit in Brussels on 9 April.

It seems Europeans will wake up and try to organise the defence while China insists to its policy of ‘take all’.

Investments and security

In March, the European Commission recommended a set of operational steps and measures to ensure a high level of cybersecurity of 5G networks across the EU.

The European Parliament’s Resolution concerning security threats connected with the rising Chinese technological presence in the EU, was voted on 12 March. The MEPs called on the Commission and Member States to take action at Union level.

In its conclusions of 22 March, the European Council expressed its support for the European Commission’s recommendation.

The Europeans are now beginning to realise there are serious security threats connected with China’s rising presence. Europe is vulnerable to cyberattacks because it reacts too late.

But this is not the only problem.

During previous years, and with the help of the economic crisis, China bought European firms – and their technologies – of strategic interest.

The huge investments in Greece at the port of Piraeus and in Portugal’s energy sector are proven a defeat for the EU’s interests. The Chinese now attempt to land in the Italian city of Trieste coveting its important port.

Is there any reciprocity for that? No! Absolutely not. China is for Chinese only.

During previous years, and with the help of the economic crisis, China bought European firms – and their technologies – of strategic interest

Divide et impera through trade

Despite the declarations in favour of cooperation with the EU, China is constantly and methodically undermining the EU by signing bilateral agreements with EU member states.

Many countries in the Eastern and Central Europe, some of them infamously known for the corrupting tendencies of their leaderships, have not hesitated to open their ‘gates’ to China.

To date, eleven of the 28 member states have signed the ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, opening their markets to Chinese goods.

What does this mean? It means Chinese money can influence EU members governments. This influence can be expressed on the level of national diplomacy, but also at the EU level through the decisions of the European Council.

As such, Chinese penetration in the European market and control of strategic industries has become easier.

Human rights? An unknown concept for Beijing

The 37th round of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue was held in Brussels on 1-2 April.

From the beginning, as it was expected, the Chinese delegation focused on alleged achievements in social rights, employment, poverty alleviation and social protection. Not a word about human rights.

The EU insisted that international laws and standards are universal and must be applied accordingly. The EU expects China to expedite the process of ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, signed by China in 1998, and implement the recommendations of UN human rights bodies.

China is literally under a dense veil of terror!

The EU highlighted the deteriorating situation of civil and political rights in China.

And this is true!

Disrespect of human rights in China has many aspects and affects ethnic groups, religious minorities, gender rights activists, workers’ rights activists, supporters of democratisation and lawyers who dare to take on the defence of victims against the Chinese authorities.

China is literally under a dense veil of terror!

In the north-eastern region of Xinjiang, Uyghurs are the target of an unprecedented policy of forced assimilation. More than a million is interned in concentration camps. Also, children are forcibly taken from parents and given to Chinese families or placed in special institutions. Any expression of Uyghur culture is severely banned and treated as a terrorist act.

In Tibet, repression continues unabated. Chinese diplomats and officials block any attempt in the West to show solidarity to the occupied Tibet. Governments are prevented from receiving Tibet’s exiled emissaries.

Muslims, in general, as well as Christians and other religious communities, are persecuted.

Human rights, worker’s rights and gender rights activists are imprisoned and deprived of any possibility to contact their families.

The lawyers who assume the defence of those imprisoned are under constant threat of imprisonment themselves, while many of them are already in prison.

This is the situation in China today.

Defend interests and values

The EU must elaborate as soon as possible a common policy towards Chinese penetration. The European Commission’s recommendations from March prove that European leaders understand the dimensions that the Chinese threat represents.

As such, the EU must insist that any agreement with Beijing is marked by reciprocity. It is not possible for the EU to continue to open its markets to Chinese products while China remains closed to EU products.

The EU must prevent what China provoked in Africa and in the Central Asia where the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ caused unemployment and benefited only the Asian giant.

The EU should apply a diplomacy based on the fundamental principles that keep the bloc alive.

How is it possible to make so many concessions for a country that does not respect human rights, where workers are deprived of any modern worker’s right and the concept of rule of law is banned?

The EU’s pressure on China to free all political, religious and human rights activist is a step in the right direction.

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