Australia’s wine war wins allies; NATO wakes up; a new EU-US alliance.

Edward Lucas


NATO is waking up to China. The alliance’s foreign ministers held a China summit with counterparts from Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea as well as from Finland, Sweden and the EU’s chief diplomat Joseph Borrell. The secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, highlighted the threat: “China is investing massively in new weapons. It is coming closer to us, from the Arctic to Africa. It does not respect fundamental human rights and tries to intimidate other countries.” A report by the alliance’s “reflection group” urged “much more time, political resources, and action” when it comes to Beijing. Covering all possible bases, the Global Times said that NATO was abandoned by and a puppet of the U.S., out of date, ineffective, paranoid and also a troublemaker.

The EU’s much-awaited turn to geopolitics lumbers forwards too. Hard on the heels of a  notable new strategic partnership with ASEAN comes an ambitious new proposal for revived transatlantic ties, as the “linchpin of a new global alliance of like-minded partners.” The EU’s top trade official, Sabine Weyand, is proposing a “Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council.” An EU-US effort on digital governance and standard-setting would certainly constrain China’s mixture of high-tech repression and technological innovation. It belatedly fills the gap left when the free-trade Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) foundered five years ago. 

Meantime, the growing spat between China and Australia — including a photoshopped tweet showing an Australian soldier as a baby-killer — offers plenty of scope for action. The International Parliamentary Alliance on China, which brings together 200 lawmakers from 19 countries, issued a punchy video where Italian, Japanese, Danish and other politicians pledged to drink wine from embattled Australia, blunting China’s sanctions…And in Washington, D.C. the National Security Council tweeted that it would serve Australian wine at an upcoming function, adding a commendably unbureaucratic #AussieAussieAussieOiOiOi! 


Policy on China is shifting, exemplified by a plethora of reports bulging with analysis and suggestions. We read them so that you don’t have to.

  • Kudos to the anonymous authors at the State Department’s policy planning department for their beautifully written and thought-provoking China Challenge report. This ringing call for an invigorated U.S foreign policy is remarkable for its focus on upholding constitutional government at home and working with allies and the rules-based international order. Let’s hope nobody reads it in the White House.
  • The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission’s annual report makes dozens of suggestions, notably establishing reciprocity as the central principle of US-China ties. It wants lots of new reports and bodies to monitor the different aspects of Chinese mischief. Interestingly, it highlights the theft of Americans’ health data as a threat. 
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee published a report with a six-point transatlantic agenda, while here in London, the China Research Group (a caucus in the governing Conservative Party) issued a nine-point plan focussing on measures to defend human rights, particularly in Hong Kong. The International Legal Aid Defence Fund is a good idea.
  • Finally, Tim Rühlig at IFRI has 25 recommendations for a more principled EU policy. An intriguing (and long overdue) one is a Europe-wide register of Chinese interference attempts.

All this is welcome. But what matters are deeds not words. Watch closely to see how far other countries are willing to go to help Australia, protect Taiwan and complain about Hong Kong.  

What we’re reading: Lots of academic papers, of course, but not only. 

  • The Italian La Stampa has a story that Huawei forced engineers at its Munich research complex to spy on its rival Cisco.
  • Congratulations too to colleagues at Sinopsis for their deep dive into the China “Friendship Group” in the European Parliament. It effectively functions as a proxy for Chinese Communist Party (CCP) domestic and external propaganda,” they argue. The takeaway is that rather than destroying democratic governance structures, CCP influence activity aims to repurpose them as tools of extraterritorial influence.
  • If you can wade through the jargon (“analytic eclecticism” and “affective sticking points”) this has useful insights into the way that propaganda about the benefits of Chinese infrastructure, notably the Belt and Road Initiative, befuddled European public opinion.
  • If you prefer the dialect of English used by economists, this looks at how Europe is losing competitiveness in global value chains while China surges. 
  • Rather more readably, Chang Che in the Atlantic is excellent on China’s fascination with the sovereignty-first “Nazi jurist” Carl Schmitt.
  • And also in the Atlantic, Thomas Wright of Brookings outlines the difference of opinion between the Biden administration’s “restorationists” who want to go back to the Obama era and the more hawkish “reformists” who see China as the administration’s defining challenge.

What we’re drinking: Australian #freedomwine, of course!

That’s it for this week — we will be back in your inboxes next Thursday.

Best regards