August 12, 2019

The U.S. or China? Europe Needs to Pick a Side

By Andrea Kendall-Taylor and Rachel Rizzo

Amid ten consecutive weeks of protest in Hong Kong, Beijing is looking to a seemingly unlikely place for support: Europe. In recent days, Chinese ambassadors across the continent have gone on the offensive to rally Europe behind Hong Kong’s government and against the protestors. As part of their campaign to promote Beijing’s line, China’s ambassadors are publishing op-eds in local papers and publicly criticizing European leaders for failing to denounce what they are trying to frame as violent protests. The audacity of China’s efforts suggests that in Beijing’s eyes, Europe is up for grabs.

There’s a reason China thinks Europe might be persuaded. As China attempts to spread its authoritarian values across the globe, and especially as the competition between China and the United States intensifies, Europe has conspicuously avoided siding with the United States over China. European leaders remain convinced they can uphold the values and norms they share with Washington while benefitting economically from greater engagement with China. This stance is short-sighted and dangerous—putting liberal democracy in peril.

China is a close and important partner for Europe; the two sides trade roughly 1 billion Euros worth per day, and Chinese foreign direct investment in the EU totaled 29.1 and 17.3 billion Euros in 2017 and 2018 respectively. The economic opportunity that China presents—especially for countries that have lagged economically behind Western Europe—creates strong incentives to sit on the fence. Countries in Southern and Eastern Europe in particular benefit from China’s Belt and Road investment and are keen to avoid losing it.

Read the full article in POLITICO Magazine.

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