Infighting on China

Everyone in Brussels is talking about China. But it’s not about an EU alliance with China to stop US President Donald Trump and his trade war. Quite on the contrary.

Just like Trump, the EU now wants to tighten the thumbscrews of the Chinese. They should open their markets. At the same time, a power struggle within Europe has begun. The question is whether bilateral contacts and agreements with China are permitted – or whether all future deals must be approved by Brussels.

Once again, the debate was triggered by Italy. The populist government in Rome wants to conclude a bilateral agreement that would link the country to the Chinese Silk Road. The German government doesn’t like that at all.

“Europe will only be able to play its foreign policy role as strongly as we want it to if it speaks with one voice on key foreign policy issues … if possible,” said government spokesman Steffen Seibert. Italy should follow the EU’s lead instead of going it alone.

But from a German perspective this sounds strange. The German government is even holding government consultations with China, to which the ministers will travel together to Beijing. In addition, Germany has long been connected to the Silk Road. The network extends as far as the Rhine port of Duisburg.

But when others do it, of course it’s not the same. The Federal Government already knows that Brussels is on its side. But that was it. China has already concluded agreements with eastern and southern EU members – from Bulgaria to Greece and Portugal.

Poland and Latvia are also seeking membership; among other things, they hope for more investment. But one must not make oneself dependent on China, warns the EU Commission in Brussels. It has declared China a “systemic rival” which promotes “alternative governance models”.

Warnings also come (of course) from Washington. The US administration is even openly threatening Germany with reprisals if the Chinese Huawei group gets its hands on the 5G network. Berlin would then be cut off from intelligence information from Washington.

They are fighting with hard bandages. It will be interesting to see what the EU summit will do with this mixture. Hopefully Merkel & Co. will also remember that we need China for the Paris climate agreement and the nuclear agreement with Iran – and that against Trump…

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