In recent times, European countries have been unusually enthusiastic about the “Indo-Pacific region”. France has just concluded joint maritime exercises with the U.S., Japan, India and Australia, and will send its first troops to Japan next to participate in joint military exercises with the U.S. and Japan; Britain publicly stated in a new Defense Assessment Report issued in March that “military power is tilting toward the Indo-Pacific region,” and that it intends to send the aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, to the Indo-Pacific region in May. Germany, after promulgating its “Indo-Pacific Strategy” late last year, held its first “2+2” meeting with Japan in April and signed an Intelligence (sharing) Agreement, and made the rare announcement that it would send its navy to Asia in August. The U.S. may be targeting China in the Asia-Pacific for geopolitical reasons, why is Europe on the other side of the world jumping so high this time?
First, diplomacy is a continuation of domestic affairs, and from this perspective, there are potential challenges in the domestic affairs of all the major European countries, apart from their being ravaged by the new corona epidemic. France will have a general election next year. Macron’s domestic reform is stalled as it is difficult to explain to the voters, the far-right National Alliance’s Marine Le Pen claims to be in readiness to replace him, so seeking “extra points” in diplomacy has become the Macron government’s reluctant and inevitable choice. Germany’s ruling coalition party has elected Raschett as its candidate for Prime Minister after many twists and turns, but has to contend with the ambitious and hardline Green Party which has fielded Berger to compete with him. The current gap between the two parties is only a few percentage points. There are still variables in the final election of the month. The situation is even worse in the United Kingdom, which has left the European Union, with the ongoing riots in Northern Ireland highlighting the after-effects of Brexit and Scotland preparing to hold another independence referendum in 2023. Amidst all this, the Johnson government has labeled China and Russia as its “main adversaries.
Second, there is no doubt that the United States is pulling and instigating them. Biden’s rise to power had given some people in Europe hope again, but in fact the Biden Administration is fundamentally no different from the Trump Administration. Both want to sacrifice the interests of others, even allies, to strengthen the United States complete; there is only a slight difference in approach. Secretary of State, John Blinken strongly exaggerated the threat from China ,, at a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in order to induce European members of NATO to be the “vanguard” in containment of China. This is a “heavenly music” for those pro-American forces in Europe inclined towards jumping out to hug U.S. thighs, taking the opportunity to step up their presence in the Asia-Pacific.
Nowadays there is a saying in the United States and Europe that NATO is “Asianizing”, which actually means that China has become the primary target of NATO, and so it is necessary to contain it in the Indo-Pacific region. We should be vigilant about this. Some Western politicians are demonizing China, launching unprovoked attacks on everything from the economy to human rights and values, and now involving regional security too, making China appear to be a “troublemaker” in their clamor.
In this regard, we must maintain strategic forbearance and not overreact.
First, we have to be clear that those Western politicians will not speak well of China, unless it gives up its own development path and abandons its military efforts. So long as China is still developing, its economy is still maintaining a medium to high speed growth and its society is better managed than the West, they must throw some dirty water on it. With so much trouble within some European countries today, if their political elites don’t find something wrong with China again, won’t they be telling their voters that they have failed?
Second, NATO is not going to disappear anytime soon, but its role is indeed increasingly being questioned, and an out-of-date Cold War product can only prove its continued relevance in contorted ways. From this point of view, some European powers piling upon the Asia-Pacific to find a place for themselves is only a temporary phase in which some major European countries have gathered to find a sense of presence in the Asia-Pacific and cannot be for long-term. Tertre, a researcher at the French Montaigne Institute, pointed out that it was a mistake for NATO to compare the threat of China with that from Russia (formerly).
Thirdly, in the long run, Europe will not be willing to be cannon fodder for the United States. In other words, NATO is ultimately a military alliance that serves U.S. interests first and foremost, and not all European countries have the will and ability to act as U.S. “pawns” against China. While German Foreign Minister Maas described China as “a country that increasingly poses a challenge to us,” he also stressed that “European and American interests do not always overlap”.
In the end, no matter which way you look at it, Europe and China are more cooperative than divergent, and this is something Europe knows very well. 2020 will see China overtake the United States as the EU’s top export market, which proves that the trend is for China and Europe to work together for the benefit of both. Of course, some people in Europe should also be clear that in this the world, it is difficult to cooperate without sincerity; hoping to benefit economically, while , while acting tough towards it. In the end, some European politicians still have the realpolitik mentality of the Cold War, but China should never (allow itself to) become an “imaginary enemy” of some European politicians, an “opponent to be punched for proving themselves right”.
(The author is a Professor at the School of International Relations of Beijing Foreign Studies University)