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Original illustration by Tse Yuet Ching for Echowall

06:17 am | 19. May 2020

Putting Europe Last?

Public debate in EU member states can enhance national and EU policy-making on China, but analysis of the 2019 Dutch policy paper on China and the surrounding debate suggests lack of strategic thinking and resolve on the member-state level may undermine cohesion and policy effectiveness on the EU level.

By Dr. Vincent K.L. Chang

Since the first direct contacts in the early 17th century, relations between the Netherlands and China have passed through three broad stages. During the first stage, Dutch seafarers followed in the footsteps of their European peers by submitting to a Sinocentric regional order and paying tribute to the emperor in the hope of accessing new markets and sources of supply. In the next stage, during what has come to be known as China’s “century of humiliation,” the scales tipped in the other direction, and the Dutch became active stakeholders in a similarly unequal, but this time Western-dominated, system of unilateral advantages and imperialist interventions that helped bring down the Chinese empire.

Finally, the Second World War and the Chinese Civil War that ended in the establishment of the PRC in 1949, saw the Netherlands and China striking a golden balance between the two outmoded systems, ushering in a third stage in their historical ties based on modern Westphalian principles of legal equality and sovereignty.

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Johan Nieuhof, a Dutch traveler who became an authoritative Western writer on China in the 17th century after making a trip from Canton to Peking in 1655-1657. Image from Wikimedia Commons in the public domain.

This hard-won equilibrium survived the Cold War and lasted all the way through to the beginning of the 21st century. In 1950, the Netherlands was among the first Western European states to recognize the PRC government in Beijing and sever relations with the Nationalists at Taipei. This was followed in 1954 by the establishment of (semi-)diplomatic relations and, after the Dutch government had reconfirmed its One-China policy in 1972, by an upgrade to full ambassadorial ties.

Bilateral ties have developed rapidly since the 1970s, despite occasional setbacks and tensions, such as over the sale of Dutch submarines to Taiwan and Dutch criticism of China’s human rights record. In 2014, President Xi Jinping chose the Netherlands as the first stop of his European tour. During the visit, the two sides reached agreement on an Open and Pragmatic Partnership for Comprehensive Cooperation. In October the following year, King Willem Alexander of the Netherlands repaid Xi’s historic visit with a state call to China.

The Balance Shifts Again

Around this time, however, the notion started to take hold in several Western capitals that China’s growing global reach and ambition signaled a shift in the geopolitical balance that might threaten the very foundations of the post-war order. Perceptions of this kind, reinforced by broader security concerns and anxiety about the future of multilateralism, prompted calls across the EU region for a reappraisal and potential recalibration of the relationship with China. It was against this backdrop that the Dutch government published a policy paper on China in May 2019, entitled “The Netherlands and China: A New Balance.” Several media outlets and observers have since commented on the paper. However, to date, no dedicated analysis of its strategic value and potential implications, including on the EU level, has emerged. Redressing this shortfall, this article asks to what extent the recent Dutch policy proposals and surrounding discussions have the potential to further the EU-wide shared goal of securing a new balance in the relationship with China.

Recent Dutch Policy on China

This latest Dutch policy paper was preceded by several similar documents. In 2006, the foreign ministry issued a policy vision on prospective cooperation with China during the years 2006 to 2010, a period coinciding with China’s 11th Five Year Plan. The document, which appeared at a time when US officials were urging China to become a responsible stakeholder in the global system, underscored the interest of the Netherlands in a stable, responsible, and sustainable China. The government optimistically stated that it saw China principally as a country that offered opportunities, rather than threats, and that “constructive discussion” was the natural way forward in areas where mutual views might diverge. The Dutch optimism about China’s economic growth led the European think-tank ECFR in 2009 to label the Netherlands, alongside Denmark, Sweden, and the UK as, an “ideological free trader.”

A second policy document on China emerged in November 2013. Compared with the earlier one, the 2013 paper placed greater emphasis on the differences existing between the two countries and the importance for the Netherlands to encourage economic and political reform in its engagement with China. Accordingly, the paper proposed a dual approach of “investing in values” and “investing in business,” seeking to open up space for candid discussions on values and human rights, while at the same time stepping up economic diplomacy.

By this time, the Netherlands had been ranked for a full decade as China’s second-largest trading partner in the EU, a position it subsequently lost to Britain, but is slated to regain post-Brexit. At the same time, the Netherlands has been one of a handful of EU member states to insist on having its own human rights dialogue with China and to allocate an annual amount of around 2 million euro to human rights projects in China.

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Stef Blok, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, visits China in June 2019. Here he appears at a press conference with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. Photo by Danitsja Nassy / Annemijn van den Broek, available at Flickr.com under CC license.

A recent ETNC survey classified the Netherlands – alongside Belgium, Denmark, France, and Norway – as EU member states that are “active and discreet” in their political dealings with China, thus contrasting them to the more “active and vocal” member states, such as Germany, Sweden, and the UK.

It is true that the Dutch government prefers quiet diplomacy over megaphone diplomacy in its dealings with China – precisely because it is bilaterally engaged in sensitive dialogues and project funding.

 

It is true that the Dutch government prefers quiet diplomacy over megaphone diplomacy in its dealings with China – precisely because it is bilaterally engaged in sensitive dialogues and project funding. But this has not prevented the Dutch from consistently supporting the EU’s more assertive recent actions vis-à-vis China. Apart from endorsing multiple public statements condemning China’s human rights violations, the Netherlands also joined a concerted EU move to criticize China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Though the Netherlands has signed a memorandum of understanding with China on promoting commercial cooperation in third-party markets, it has steered clear from embracing the BRI in the way that other member states – such as Italy, Greece and Poland – have recently done.

Securing a New Balance

Contrary to similar China papers that have recently appeared in some other EU countries, the new Dutch policy document was not a response to a particular incident or acute problem in the relationship with China. The idea of a new strategy came up during a May 2018 parliamentary session on the integration of national security and foreign policy strategies into a comprehensive international strategy. It was a representative of the Liberal party, generally viewed as pragmatic and pro-international business, who led the push for a new government strategy to deal with the challenges arising from China’s growing global influence. Foreign minister Stef Blok, also a Liberal, expressed reluctance at the idea of producing single-country papers but, faced with a joint motion sponsored by the four coalition partners, ultimately had little choice but to comply.

Five Recommendations from the Dutch Advisory Council of International Affairs (AIV) Report (2019) for Acting More Strategically Toward China:

1. Develop forums within the EU for the assessment of economic, value-related and security interests that China’s rise demands, in the appropriate locations. If this is not successful, take the initiative as a last resort to set up a strategic forum with like-minded member states outside the framework of the EU.

2. Advocate an update of the EU China strategy (2016) that expresses the wishes and demands of the member states in strategic terms of “red lines” and potential forms of leverage. Also, advocate the establishment of a knowledge network on China within the new European Commission.

3. Acknowledge that economic and technological “decoupling” of the three great trading blocs (the US, Europe and China) for specific products and for security policy reasons can be advocated, but also entails strategic risks, given that economic interdependence can have a mitigating impact on global conflicts.

4. Participate in initiatives taken by large EU member states for united action in respect of China and/or encourage EU representatives to participate in such initiatives.

5. Increase Europe’s potential leverage with respect to China (market access, technology, legitimacy, and political and economic influence), starting with what the Netherlands itself can do by, for example, investing more in technology.

A period of intensive consultations and interdepartmental discussions followed, involving at least eight ministries and several specialized agencies. According to Dutch media reports, there were major divergences between the various departments and cabinet members on key principles of engagement, with the intelligence and security agencies warning against overdependency and related security risks and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) favoring a more open and constructive line. As stated in the policy paper, over a hundred outside experts and societal stakeholders were consulted. Nonetheless, at a high-level expert meeting just three months before the paper’s planned release date, it found itself on the defense against concerns by Dutch business representatives that the consultation process was not being conducted in an inclusive and transparent manner.

The foreign ministry officially released the paper on May 15, 2019, following a two-month delay. By this time, the status of the document had been relegated to “policy paper” from the original “strategy.” More importantly, in releasing the paper, the Dutch cabinet had apparently decided to forgo the findings of the Advisory Council of International Affairs (AIV), which it had commissioned in the fall of the previous year to give advice on the effectiveness of the EU’s China strategy and implications for Dutch policy. The AIV issued its thoughtful and nuanced advisory report in June 2019, less than six weeks after the government paper was released. In October 2019, the foreign ministry issued an official English translation of the policy paper, in which it mentions that the AIV report had in the meantime been published, but without commenting on its findings.

The first part of the policy paper contains a general introduction setting its overall tone. It describes in candid terms how ongoing global trends and shifts, and China’s rising influence in particular, have altered the geopolitical, security, and economic outlook of the Netherlands since 2013 and hence necessitate a strategic reorientation. Similar to the EU-China Strategic Outlook, published two months earlier by the European Commission and the EU High Representative, the Dutch paper notes that while China continues to offer “substantial opportunities,” it at the same time represents a development model that clashes systemically with Western values. It concludes in unmistakable terms that “the question is no longer how the Netherlands can benefit from China’s development and how we can further integrate China into the existing international order; now it is much more what China’s rise means for our own place in Europe and in the world.”

In essence, the paper advocates a shift from a policy focusing uncritically on free trade and openness to a more “realistic” approach capable of protecting core national values from potential threats. This passage reflects clearly the ambition of the Dutch government to recalibrate the relationship:

Opportunities should be seized wherever possible, but there should also be greater awareness of issues of security (including economic security), cyber espionage and undesirable influence. The government stands firmly for protection of the rule of law, security and the open economy and society in the Netherlands. It will act if the openness of the Dutch economy and society is threatened or undermined. Our openness means that we have to carefully consider whether the benefits of taking advantage of opportunities outweigh the need to protect our security, our earnings potential and values such as the rule of law and human rights. In this policy document, the government outlines the new balance it envisages in its relations with China.

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Two-pronged Diplomacy

The second section, comprising the bulk of the document, sets out the Dutch government’s policy aims and the proposed strategies to achieve these aims. It does so around five main themes: (1) Sustainable Trade and Investment; (2) Peace, Security and Stability; (3) Values, Human Rights, and the International Legal Order; (4) Climate; and (5) Development Cooperation. Moreover, it distinguishes four forms of cooperation on four different institutional levels: (1) the multilateral system; (2) European cooperation; (3) national-level “intra-Kingdom” cooperation (i.e. between the Netherlands and other constituent units including Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, St. Eustatius, and St. Maarten); and (4) Dutch subnational institutions and societal actors.

The paper’s approach to each of these five themes and the four forms of cooperation essentially reflects its central motto of “open where possible, protective where necessary.” The consistent aim is to maximize and take advantage of shared interests, while allowing for “ideological differences” as long as these do not threaten Dutch interests.

Five Recommendations from the Dutch Advisory Council of International Affairs (AIV) Report (2019) for Overcoming Lack of EU Consensus on China:

1. Upgrade the EU from observer to member of the 17+1 platform comprising China and a group of Central, Eastern and Southeastern EU member states, to enable the interests of the EU and of absent member states to be better promoted.

2. Be sparing with calls for and the use of majority decision-making on sensitive issues. The political costs of outvoting member states are often high. In areas where there are as yet no provisions for majority decision-making, it is not yet politically feasible to expand the options for using it through regular or ‘light’ treaty changes. There are other ways to strengthen European unity.

3. Take initiatives to achieve informal coordination on salient issues like the MoUs relating to the Belt and Road Initiative or export controls (e.g. arms exports), modeled on the recently introduced screening of foreign investments.

4. Consider substantive trade-offs or making counteroffers to encourage member states or neighboring countries to support strategically important common positions.

5. Call on member states that are obstructionist in the field of foreign policy to make use of the option of ‘constructive abstention’ rather than their veto; consider as a last resort – besides specific actions with groups of like-minded states – issuing human rights statements on an "all-except-one" basis, so that the EU can still bring its political weight to bear.

As to the means, the policy suggests a combination of “offensive” measures, typically through multilateral structures, and “defensive” measures, aimed at protecting and enhancing national resources and capacities. In trade, for example, this means that the Netherlands intends to step up international pressure on China “to tackle unfair practices” through the WTO and the EU, while at the same time updating and expanding trade defense instruments (such as investment screening) and strengthening existing measures protecting Dutch businesses and technology.

The paper sets out a similar two-pronged approach for protecting values and human rights. On the one hand, the Dutch government vows to “raise the situation in China where appropriate, preferably at the EU level but also bilaterally and at the UN, both publicly and through quiet diplomacy”; on the other, it aspires to “raise awareness about differences in values between the Netherlands and China and about Chinese motives, actions and aims in this regard” so as to “enhance the resilience” of Dutch nationals and communities against encroachments on Dutch norms and values.

The government’s plan to combat climate change and promote sustainable development in developing countries likewise rests on a two-pronged strategy of encouraging change in China, especially through multilateral diplomacy, while addressing risks and raising levels of awareness in the Netherlands and relevant third countries.

The paper highlights the importance of multilateralism both as an end in itself and as a means for engaging with Beijing. Noting the paramount importance of the EU for the Netherlands “in today’s multipolar world,” the paper frames Dutch policy on China as complementary to and falling under the “umbrella” of the EU’s China policy, with the EU as the “primary channel” for its relations with China.

Because an effective EU policy, in turn, requires cohesion among the member states, the Dutch government intends to make “greater use” of its bilateral contacts to persuade “those member states that block decision-making on China” to come back into the fold. At the same time, the paper warns, if joint action fails on important points, the Netherlands will not hesitate to establish “leading groups” of “like-minded” member states to take appropriate steps. The government also considers cooperation with like-minded partners outside of the EU to be crucial.

As this brief run-through makes clear, the paper contains few concrete innovations, new commitments, or hard choices. In typical Dutch fashion, it reflects an impossible attempt to reconcile the diverging views existing in the ministries of economic affairs, justice and security, education, and foreign affairs into a single, strategic vision. Goals and plans are expressed in broad terms and paved with references to existing policy documents and frameworks in the various issue areas.

The one concrete action envisaged in the paper is the creation of a national coordination and information-sharing platform on China, though even this proposal is couched in vague and passive terms. During the parliamentary discussions, however, it became clear that the cabinet had reserved 2.4 million euro for the establishment of a knowledge network bringing together China experts from various disciplines to promote public knowledge on China and advise central and local governments as well as societal stakeholders on China-related issues and strategies. Preparation for the network is ongoing, though progress has been slow, and its contours remain unclear.

The one concrete action envisaged in the paper is the creation of a national coordination and information-sharing platform on China, though even this proposal is couched in vague and passive terms.

 

A Strategic Deficit

The policy paper has not been well received by the Dutch public. The general response among most observers was that the government offered a thoughtful analysis of the changing geopolitical landscape and related policy concerns, but failed to follow this up with political decisions and avoided strategic choices.

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Coverage of the policy paper in the Netherlands’ De Volkskrant newspaper calls it a “nothing note.”

Dutch media slammed the paper as a “rich information brochure” lacking any sense of urgency and concrete measures, while parliamentarians described it as a “nothing-note.” Amnesty International deplored the use of empty phrases in the paper, while criticizing the government for emulating official Chinese discourse that equates universal human rights with (discretionary) values. While most observers expressed disappointment of the lack of firm language, others called for more sensibility, self-reflection, and nuance in the debate, warning that “China-bashing” should be avoided.

The Dutch lower house debated the paper in September 2019 with the minister of foreign affairs and the minister of foreign trade and development cooperation. Members of the two relevant parliamentary committees, having previously consulted various representatives of civil society, adopted multiple motions during the four-hour debate. The most remarkable demand was that the government completely rewrite the chapter on “values,” as the text dealing with human rights was considered inadequate in light of the alarming recent developments in Xinjiang and more broadly in China. Parliamentarians from almost all political parties insisted that the Netherlands should lead the international community on this issue by approaching human rights more strategically (through linkage with trade, for example), prioritizing freedom of religion (for example, for Uyghurs and Christians), and addressing severe human rights violations more frequently and vocally.

Except for calls to impose regulatory restrictions on the export of surveillance technology and to deny trade credit insurance provisions to businesses potentially involved in human rights violations, the debate produced few concrete suggestions for innovating or improving present strategies of promoting human rights in China.

Additional motions adopted during the session demanded that the government take active steps, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to promote reciprocal and fair trade with China, undo possible benefits arising from China’s developing-country status in the WTO and other international organizations, and enable the meaningful participation of Taiwan in international organizations and discussion of global issues. In the months following the debate, the foreign ministry sent several letters to the lower house addressing some of these concerns and clarifying the official position, but offering little new in the way of policy innovations.

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An online article from the national broadcaster NOS reads: “China deserved a tougher response on human rights and unfair competition, says Chamber.”

For all the criticism that the policy paper was lacking strategy, its critics themselves also failed to address the deeper strategic issues that had prompted them to request the paper the previous year. Perhaps this is not surprising in light of the deep-seated political reflexes in parliament and the then mounting concerns concerning Xinjiang and Hong Kong. But it does reflect a serious failure and a precious opportunity missed. A failure, firstly, by the government to produce a strategy that could satisfy parliament. But also, far more significantly, a failure by the legislature to initiate a much-needed debate on the strategic choices that will be critical for guaranteeing the competitiveness and future prosperity of the Netherlands.

Instead of doubling down on old policies that have previously proved not just to be ineffective, but often also counterproductive, the question that should have been at the heart of the debate, as several colleagues have pointed out, is how to “prepare for China’s superpower status and leading position in science, technology, the economy, and geostrategy.”

Putting Europe Last

This critique may be taken to a further level. If there is consensus that multilateralism and concerted EU action are indispensable for a pertinent national response to the threats arising from China’s global ascendance, then the EU is where any strategic discussion should begin and end. Seen from this standpoint, it is difficult to understand why the government should have chosen to forgo the AIV report and willingly remove a discussion on policy feasibility and effectiveness from the orbit of public debate. True, the cabinet did make an official response to the AIV report in September, but this could hardly be considered a real attempt to do justice to the wide-ranging and potentially far-reaching advice of the AIV. Illustrative of the perfunctory handling of the report is that during a subsequent roundtable discussion in parliament, the president of the committee for foreign affairs neglectfully mistook the advice for a response paper to the policy document.

If there is consensus that multilateralism and concerted EU action are indispensable for a pertinent national response to the threats arising from China’s global ascendance, then the EU is where any strategic discussion should begin and end.

 

At least two fundamental questions should be at the heart of a national discussion on China strategy. The first is: what are the implications of such a national paper for the consistency and effectiveness of EU policy on China? The idea that the Netherlands should simply proceed alone or mobilize “leading groups” with “like-minded partners” in areas where other member states express reservations, to give one example, may be tempting and seemingly effective on the short-run. But the long-term impact on EU cohesion of such cherry-picking should not be ignored, as will be shown below. European politicians and observers are often quick to criticize China for its alleged “pick and choose” diplomacy and divide-and-rule tactics, but tend to gloss over the fact that it are the actions and inactions of member states that sustain and deepen the existing fault lines between regional groupings within the EU. The rows that erupted during the 2009 eurozone crisis over the Greek “bailout” and austerity measures and, recently, over the EU’s Covid-19 response and “coronabonds,” are poignant reminders of how deep north-south, east-west, and creditor-debtor divisions run across the union.

There is thus a compelling case to be made that championing “like-mindedness” is not conducive to the long-term interests of those states that use the term. The term smacks of ideology, and is more likely to reinforce existing divides than overcome them. Assigning oneself to a morally or otherwise superior “leading group” may strike other member states as self-righteous and offensive, and has the potential of further eroding EU cohesion. More importantly, narrowing one’s focus to like-minded partners suggests an inward-looking and, indeed, narrow-minded response that cannot provide any solution to global problems. Agreeing with one’s peers, after all, is not the main point. The real challenge in today’s world – be it over WTO reform, human rights, climate change or global health – is how to engage effectively with countries beyond one’s preferred groupings so as to secure sufficient critical mass for effective change. This leads to the second fundamental question: how can a national strategy contribute to the goal of building sufficiently large coalitions of (like-interested) partners, both within and outside the EU?

Recent examples are illustrative of how European disunity and improvidence are hastening a handover of global leadership to China. In July 2019, UN ambassadors of 22 Western countries, including 15 EU members, signed a joint statement urging China to end human rights violations against Muslims in Xinjiang. While the sponsors may have commended themselves for achieving this unprecedented joint action, it may be more illuminating for present purposes to look at the result from the outside in, and assess it in terms of what it was not. For one, it was not a sign of EU solidarity, given that almost half of the total membership refused to sign (in previous instances in 2016 and 2017 as many as 21 member states had rejected joint action). Second, it was not an example of rank-breaking among those countries outside the EU, be it developing or developed states, that tend to side with China on sensitive international issues. On the contrary, Beijing was able to muster 37 UN member states for a counter-statement in support of its policies in Xinjiang, thereby highlighting the mounting international isolation of the small group of advanced Western countries and stepping up its own leadership role in the rest of the world. Lastly, the verbal rebuke was not backed by any concrete action, for example, of the type that the US took by imposing visa restrictions on Chinese officials and adopting legislation that enabling further sanctions.

This is not to argue that the EU and the member states should not at times make a stand. But without a solid strategic approach and firm action, being more “vocal” serves no real purpose other than self-deception, and ultimately self-defeat. Instead, the EU should pick its battles more strategically, expand areas where it can present a (near) united front and commit beyond mere words, and engage perceptively and realistically with other groupings, including those developing nations united in the Group of 77, so as to encourage them to reconsider their default pro-China positions.

This requires more than “raising awareness” or “explaining” European views and values in other places of the world; what is needed is a preparedness both on the part of the EU and the member states to compromise and adapt. Without the support of developing countries and non-like-minded states, as the AIV also observes, not only will change be virtually impossible, but European criticisms will easily be construed as neocolonial expressions of the type of “the West against the rest.”

New Times, Old Questions

Can democracies act strategically? Do democratic processes produce effective foreign policies? These are old dilemmas, debated over the past centuries by such great thinkers as Locke and De Tocqueville, and still waiting to be resolved. In theory, there is no reason why democratic participation must forestall effective policy-making, even if voters are poorly informed. In practice, however, the picture is more complicated. The Dutch China paper serves as a case in point. Despite constitutionally-mandated deliberations being conducted by the book between government and parliament, resulting in the legislative power correcting the executive on several points, much of the debate was completely beside the point. With government eschewing the really hard questions, parliamentarians were quick to resort to their familiar repertoire of easy-to-score political points and demands for doubling down on policies that have previously proven ineffective, divisive, and self-damaging.

With government eschewing the really hard questions, parliamentarians were quick to resort to their familiar repertoire of easy-to-score political points and demands for doubling down on policies that have previously proven ineffective, divisive, and self-damaging.

 

The potential added value of a national policy paper on China is that it may improve a member state’s contribution to the EU decision-making process – and therefore its outcomes – both in practical terms (such as information sharing, agenda-setting, proposals) and by infusing it with democratic legitimacy. After all, EU policies can only be effective if there is a minimal degree of acceptance in the member states. This requires public awareness and debate in the individual member states, which is exactly what a national policy paper can help to raise.

But all this, of course, requires that national politicians genuinely and intelligently consider prevailing realities in Europe and the world, and that they dare to confront the vital questions even where these are unpopular with their constituencies, such as those involving the EU’s powers and the inevitability of compromise in global politics. EU policy-making is not usually praised for its strong democratic basis. If member states provide ineffective input into an undemocratic system, chances are that the output will be faulty on multiple counts.

This may all sound overly harsh and pessimistic. Perhaps it is. But the importance of the argument can hardly be overstated. If Europe is to become more realistic and strategic in its relations with China, and secure a better balance, as it has set out to achieve, this will require more thoughtful approaches from national parliamentarians and policy makers. As I and others have argued elsewhere, the starting point of an effective and realistic EU strategy for China does not lie in seeking change in Beijing or Brussels, but in domestic politicians – in the executive and the legislature – facing up to the challenges.

While China’s ongoing rise lays bare Europe’s vulnerabilities, these weaknesses are not of China’s making. They are the result of inherent flaws and discordant incentives that expose the EU and its members to a range of “threats.” Rather than conceiving China’s current engagement with the world as an anomalous threat that that simply requires a China paper or a more “vocal” attitude toward Beijing, policymakers in Europe should treat it as a wake-up call for candid reflection on Europe’s changed place and needs in an altered geostrategic environment.

What is needed is not a new strategy on China, but a deeper shift in strategic thinking that can inform a viable, long-term strategy that will help Europe to operate and prosper in an environment in which its influence is constrained and contested and in which it finds itself defending a set of values that are in the minority internationally and under serious challenge even from within. To acknowledge this is a sign of lucidity, not of weakness, and of a genuine, not merely professed, strategic awakening. To ignore it is to eschew strategy and endanger self-survival.

In 1795, the Dutch emissaries Isaac Titsingh and Andreas van Braam Houckgeest were the last Western envoys ever to kowtow at the Chinese court – thereby upsetting the other European powers, who had denounced the submissive practice two years earlier following Earl Macartney’s famous precedent. If we are to avoid a pendulum swing back to those bygone days and practices, our national politicians must dare to face the uneasy truths and hard questions. This alone can inform a truly strategic, forward-looking approach.

 

Rebalancing EU-China Relations

This series explores the shifting strategic debate in the European Union and various member states over the economic and political relationship with China. 

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Putting Europe Last?

19. May 2020
Author
Dr. Vincent K.L. Chang

Vincent K.L. Chang is a Lecturer at the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS) and a Research Fellow at the LeidenAsiaCentre.