War is in the air in Asia. Once again, Xi Jinping has put Europe’s China policy to the test. Just hours after President Macron left Beijing after his visit, China started a large-scale military exercise around Taiwan, flexing its military muscles by deploying hypersonic bombers and warships encircling the island, simulating missile attacks on Taiwanese cities, and practising new strike tactics. The question is not if, but when, China will attack Taiwan, Members of the European Parliament, Manfred Weber and Andrius Kubilius wrote.
China is working to become the new global superpower at our expense. It is increasingly pursuing an assertive foreign policy, massively arming itself militarily, using its economic power to crush criticism around the globe and even sanctioning elected Members of Parliament in Europe.
China is occupying island territories in the South China Sea, violating international law to gain control of the region. Moreover, China has massively expanded its strategic economic ties built around critical raw materials, food and energy for years. Beijing behaves as a global free rider, pursuing an aggressive and even hostile competition policy that ignores international rules and ruthlessly pursues its interests, whether in Artificial Intelligence, communications technology, climate protection or agriculture. Undeniably, China is the elephant in the room, threatening not only its neighbours and the rule-based global order but also our European interests and allies.
Despite these warnings, European leaders have chosen to ignore the dangers. Countless individual visits by European Heads of Government have demonstrated to the world that Europe is once again divided. National rather than European interests have set the tone. This polyphony and lack of unity weaken Europe and strengthen our strategic competitors. European countries call for European sovereignty but act bilaterally when their economic interests are at stake. It allows the Chinese leadership to divide and rule, a political strategy they master perfectly, at the expense of our strategic interests.
Our relations with Beijing are essential, but going there without a European strategy is irresponsible. Regarding trade, Europe should join forces with reliable partners worldwide and create a free trade zone of the value-based, free world – an economic union of like-minded states in the spirit of the social market economy. We must abolish unanimity in foreign policy and move towards the principle of majority voting.
Critical decisions in European foreign policy must always go hand in hand with a crucial raw materials policy that secures its economic access to the resources it needs. We must reduce dependencies on Chinese supply chains. We must defend Europe’s technological leadership and innovation power by protecting our know-how and critical infrastructure against Chinese influence.
At the same time, we, as Europeans, must take our defence efforts more seriously. We must finally build a European defence pillar complementary to NATO. We must set bold ambitions, such as a joint cyber defence brigade and a joint missile defence shield. We must find a way for Europe to speak with one voice and empower it with the tools to defend itself. Only a strong Europe can ultimately prevent another global arms race. It is time for the EU to live up to the justified expectations of a reliable EU in security and foreign affairs while realistically assessing its weaknesses. We must act with our American allies and present ourselves as a solid economic and security alliance vis-à-vis China. Despite the healthy economic competition between the USA and Europe, it is beyond any doubt that the value-based and strategic transatlantic partnership with the USA remains the foundation of our European foreign and security policy and must be strengthened, given China’s hegemonic ambitions.
European independence is not value-free but anchored in an alliance of Western democracies. In this respect, the statement that Europe would be a third pole in geopolitics is wrong. We need a strong and self-confident Europe, defending our successful European model of freedom, democracy, the rule of law and fair play. The Chinese model – an autocracy without liberty, without democracy, without equality before the law and without actual perspective for the future – will reach its limits and is incompatible with our values and our ‘European way of life’. Democrats around the globe must stick together and support each other. A fractured West only benefits the autocrats in Moscow and Beijing.
If not now, when will Europe finally act firmly and decisively to restore its unity towards China? Nothing less than the future of Europe is at stake. Europe does not need more speeches or numerous bilateral economic delegations but a joint and coherent European approach. Only a united and self-confident Europe is a credible and strong Europe that will be taken seriously by the Chinese leadership. We need a strong Europe, and we need a strong West.