Brussels The EU is looking to join forces with value partners such as the USA in order to counter the growing power of China. “Democratic values and human rights are threatened by authoritarian regimes,” says the Indo-Pacific strategy that is due to be presented this week. A draft is available to the Handelsblatt.
In the strategy paper, the EU warns of a “significant military build-up, including from China” and the “increasing tensions in regional trouble spots such as the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait”. These could “have a direct impact on the security and prosperity of Europe”.
For these reasons, the EU wants to focus its foreign policy more on the Indo-Pacific. It follows the “Pivot to Asia” that the US government initiated ten years ago. Among other things, the EU is striving for closer ties to the Quad alliance that Australia, India, Japan and the USA have formed as a counterbalance to China’s growing economic, technological and military power.
The EU also promises to diversify its trade relations in the region. In doing so, she highlights Taiwan, which is likely to annoy Beijing in particular: “The EU will also continue its intensive trade and investment relations with partners with whom it has not concluded any trade and investment agreements, such as Taiwan,” says the strategy. This should apply especially in the tech sector, Taiwan is an important supplier of computer chips.
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Brussels is increasingly focusing on the geopolitical importance of technology. The EU wants to establish new “digital partnerships”, initially with Japan, Korea and Singapore. The aim is to jointly develop “standards for newly emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence on the basis of democratic principles and fundamental rights”.
Those who set the standards dominate the market
With this, Brussels is reacting to the growing influence of China in UN organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union, in which technical standards for future technologies are set. The Chinese are putting into practice what Werner von Siemens is said to have once said: Those who set the standards dominate the market. Once that applied to railways and telegraphs, today it applies to artificial intelligence and quantum computers. Those who shape technical standards here force others to adapt, secure a long-term strategic advantage – and establish their values. In the case of China: the values of a dictatorship.
“Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and facial recognition can have harmful effects on society and civil liberties,” says the EU strategy. “Therefore, it is of vital importance for the EU and like-minded partners to ensure the development of technological standards in line with democratic principles and human rights.”
The EU is also making it clear in trade policy that it wants to oppose China. Europe opposes “unfair trade practices and economic blackmail” and reserves new sanctions against “persons, organizations and institutions” responsible for “serious human rights violations”.
Brussels wants to make the future of the investment agreement with China dependent on the “broader political context of relations between the EU and China”, which means that the deal, which the outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel regards as a major political achievement, will not be ratified for the foreseeable future . Relations between the EU and China are in deep crisis – despite Merkel’s efforts to appease Beijing.
Last week, Merkel had spoken to Chinese President Xi Jinping about “economic issues,” as the German side put it briefly. The Chinese government went into more detail. State media reported that Xi had expressed his hope “that Germany will get the EU to pursue the right policy towards China”.
It doesn’t look like that. The new strategy contradicts the “correct China policy” desired by Xi almost diametrically. Although the EU has announced that it wants to pursue a “multi-faceted” policy on China in order to find “solutions to common challenges” – the officials are thinking above all of climate change. At the same time, however, the paper makes it clear that the EU wants to protect its “core interests and values” and create counter pressure “where there are fundamental differences of opinion with China”.
Increased naval operations of the member states in the region
This includes free sea routes. “In view of the importance of a significant European naval presence in the Indo-Pacific region, the EU will look for ways to ensure increased naval operations of its member states in the region”, announced the strategy paper. Behind this is the concern that China is securing control of central trade routes by building artificial islands in the South China Sea. In August, the German Navy sent the frigate “Bayern” to the Pacific to “counteract Chinese claims to power in the region”, according to the German government.
The time when German China policy consisted primarily of maximizing exports seems to be drawing to a close with the Merkel era. A rethink has also taken place in the CDU, as the appearance of party vice-president Jens Spahn on Sunday made clear in a television program: The “greatest challenge of the 1920s” is to “become less dependent on China again”.
Even the economy is increasingly distancing itself from China. Europe must make it clear that the Indo-Pacific “consists of more economic areas than just China”, demands Ulrich Ackermann, head of the foreign trade department at the VDMA.
The EU in the region should “work towards opening up markets for our companies, for example through new trade agreements with India, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand – also in order to reduce the current supply chain problems through diversification,” added Volker Treier of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The business associations are unanimously calling for a response to China’s Silk Road initiative. The Silk Road, also known as the Belt and Road, is considered to be the core of Xi Jinping’s geopolitical vision. Beijing finances the construction of highways, ports, train routes – and pulls countries into the Chinese orbit. It exports surveillance technology – spreading authoritarian values.
The EU member states have long been demanding that the Commission provide an answer to China’s Silk Road and establish infrastructure partnerships themselves. The money would be there, and so would the capacities. It was only in July that the EU foreign ministers asked the Commission to “quickly” start implementing an infrastructure agenda in order to “diversify supply chains and reduce strategic dependencies”.
But it is precisely on this point of “connectivity” that the guidelines for the EU’s Indo-Pacific remain vague. The strategy heralds a “Team Europe” approach and a “global digital connectivity initiative” without specifying concrete steps or priorities. However, it is said in Brussels expectantly that Commission head Ursula von der Leyen wants to take up the topic in her keynote address on the state of the EU on Wednesday.
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