Europe Looking Anew at China Relations Amid Beijing’s Backing of Russia

Signs of change include the Czech president-elect’s call to Taiwan’s leader and the NATO secretary-general’s underlining of Beijing’s Moscow-like bullying tactics against its neighbors.

Takashi Aoyama/pool via AP
The NATO secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, with Japan's prime minister, Fumio Kishida, January 31, 2023, at Tokyo. Takashi Aoyama/pool via AP

As the Continent awakens to the pitfalls of maintaining relations with Communist China, with even Old Europe beginning to realize that Beijing is far from an ally, some former Soviet republics are seeing the benefits of befriending Taiwan. 

Taipei is abuzz about a phone conversation between the Czech president-elect, Petr Pavel, and President Tsai. Three days after Mr. Pavel, a former NATO general, won an election, he chose the Taiwanese leader as his first global interlocutor. 

Confirming the Monday conversation with Ms. Tsai on his Twitter account, Mr. Pavel wrote, “I assured her that Taiwan and the Czech Republic share the values of freedom, democracy, and human rights. We agreed on strengthening our partnership.” 

Like other former Soviet satraps, the Czech Republic now seems to be placing its bet on the side of liberty in the brewing new cold war between democracies and dictatorships. 

“We have a lot in common with the Eastern Europeans,” a Taipei official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to comment freely, told the Sun, adding that the Taiwanese foreign minister, Joseph Wu, has “put a lot of emphasis on ties with Europe, and especially in Eastern Europe.” 

Similar signs are coming from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, who is visiting East Asia this week. In Japan, he too said that just as Russia is attacking Ukraine and threatening others in Europe, Communist China is “bullying its neighbors and threatening Taiwan.”

At Seoul, Mr. Stoltenberg noted that Communist China was not mentioned “with a single word” in NATO’s founding document. Yet, now “we are addressing China in our strategic concept,” he said. 

“We believe that we should engage with China on … arms control, climate change, and other issues,” the NATO chief added. “But at the same time we are also very clear that China poses a challenge to our values, to our interests, and to our security.”

Western Europe has long seen ties with mainland China as an opportunity for its economies. Berlin’s “business first” philosophy, for one, has aimed at forging strong economic ties with Beijing. 

As soon as President Xi secured his leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and reversed his “zero-Covid” policy this fall, Chancellor Scholz traveled to Beijing with German business leaders in tow, becoming the first foreign leader to visit China’s capital since it opened up. 

Mr. Scholz’s November trip, however, was criticized roundly, including by his Green Party coalition partners. Seeking to tighten business ties shortly after Mr. Xi declared his close alliance with President Putin didn’t sit well with Europeans. 

Mr. Stoltenberg is addressing military issues and the fast burgeoning of the People Liberation Army during his swing through Beijing’s rival capitals. Some Europeans, meanwhile, are recognizing the political implications of ties with a Communist strongman. Even Europeans who crave China’s business are beginning to see red. 

Fearing intellectual theft, espionage, and other national security issues, the Netherlands joined Japan and America last week in a move to restrict exports of semiconductor manufacturing equipment to China. Now even Mr. Scholz is beginning to see Beijing not merely as a business partner, but also as a rival. 

This week, the German chancellor traveled to South America, where Communist China has deepened its footprint as leftist politicians there have risen to power. Minerals needed by German car manufacturers are abundant in South America, but currently they’re exported for processing in China, which then re-exports them to Europe. 

Cut the middle man, Mr. Scholz said while visiting Buenos Aires. Rather than Chile or Argentina sending lithium to China for processing, “can one not move the processing of these materials, which creates thousands of jobs, to those countries where these materials come from?” he asked.

Beijing’s default answer to such challenges is to punish those who dare to post them. In 2021, it imposed sanctions on Vilnius after it started to tighten relations with Taiwan. The European Union complained to the World Trade Organization, but the sanctions hurt Lithuania even though its trade with China is limited. 

Mr. Pavel was aware of Mr. Xi’s vengeance when he made this week’s call to Ms. Tsai. Yet, one of his campaign promises was to break away from the policies of his rival, the current president, Milos Zeman, who was close both to Russia and China. Mr. Pavel even vowed to visit Taiwan.

Speaker Pelosi’s Taiwan trip raised Mr. Xi’s ire, and Beijing is warning Speaker McCarthy against a repeat, even as the Pentagon is said to prepare for him to travel there.

As more Europeans realize the stakes involved, Communist China’s threats are bound to lose some of their effectiveness.

The New York Sun

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