President Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy and France will certainly attract great attention from the US. It is widely expected that Italy and China will agree on a Belt and Road Initiative Memorandum of Understanding during Xi’s state visit, making Italy the first G7 country to sign the deal and showing Rome’s enthusiasm and openness for opportunities brought about by the BRI.
In a move highlighting Washington’s concern, the US National Security Council tweeted, “Italy is a major global economy and a great investment destination. Endorsing BRI lends legitimacy to China’s predatory approach to investment and will bring no benefits to the Italian people.”
It has become increasingly normal for the US to oppose European countries’ cooperation with China. When visiting Europe, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the European countries that using technology from Huawei could hurt their relationship with the US.
However, American pressure on Europe is not because the US cares about the continent. In fact, for the last two years, the US has done a lot to undermine European values and interests, making many Europeans wonder if this is the way a faithful ally should be treated.
The US president doesn’t care to hide his hostility toward European values by criticizing Europe’s handling of migrants, belittling European integration and making friends with controversial figures like Nigel Farage. Farage, former leader of the right-wing Eurosceptic Party UKIP, is believed to be instrumental in steering Brexit into the political agenda of Britain.
On trade issues, the US has adopted an indifferent approach for allies and non-allies alike. The feeling of relief the July compromise between EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and US President Donald Trump brought to Europe proved to be short-lived and short-sighted, when Trump threatened to impose tariffs on imported cars in November.
The US has been a great disappointment to Europe by pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris climate agreement and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, thus ditching multilateral diplomatic cooperation with Europe and threatening Europe’s long-term peace and security. In the meantime, when the US cobbles together a Middle East summit in Poland, it makes people wonder if it is trying to “divide and conquer,” or simply bail out of its partnership with Europe.
However, when it comes to the China issue, the US behaves like an ally of Europe showing solidarity and unity.
Europe has been in an evolving process in the new climate of transatlantic relations. The perception is that the US is still a shield for Europe from unknown security risks. The values of political institutions are shared, as is a connection between societies, especially the elites. Institutional frameworks supporting a transatlantic relationship, like NATO, are intact. But something subtle is happening. The need for strategic autonomy is accepted throughout Europe, and no one can deny it is the direct result of Trump’s policies toward Europe and the dynamics in the US that made his ascension to power possible. Trump represents a US that Europe doesn’t know and doesn’t like.
When Europe hopes, either out of inertia or strategic laziness, that Trump’s presidency is an anomaly and interregnum, and that the transatlantic relationship will be business as usual after Trump, it has become more realistic in dealing with the US. It cooperates with the US when interests coincide, abstains from cooperation when there is no common interest, and fights back when interests clash. Both the Iran nuclear deal and the EU’s trade stance are proof of that.
From a Chinese perspective, it is the same attitude that we wish to see when Europe is facing pressure from the US. Understanding the closeness between the US and Europe, China doesn’t want to pull Europe away from the US. First, it is not possible. Second, it is not what China wants. China doesn’t see the world as a power struggle. China’s long-term policy is to seek partnerships rather than alliances.
In a partnership, people trust each other, give fair judgment, seek to maximize cooperation and strive to work out differences. The same principles should apply to Europe’s dealings with China. Trust means not seeing China as others do. The so-called political influence and interference of China in Europe is completely misguided. Fair judgment means evaluating China in accordance with European interests. Maximizing cooperation and working out differences means finding new growth opportunities for the relationship and solving disputes in a constructive way. Europe should do what a partner should do when facing pressure related to China.