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China’s bid to divide the EU

China Influence Monitor is a weekly newsletter published by CEPA and Coda Story, tracking the westward footprint of China’s influence operations. In this edition: Divide and rule; Olympic boycotts; Three Seas; Spy bust

DIVIDE AND RULE 

At an online summit with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel, Xi Jinping suggested a “Quad” in which the two big European countries and China would coordinate their development and other work in Africa.

There’s no sign of African countries being consulted about this gimmicky proposal. And it didn’t feature in the French or German read-outs of the talks. 

A previous three-way meeting was in April. Since then the US administration has chivvied the G7 into taking a tougher line on China, especially the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This call shows how the party-state is trying to split the EU by wooing France and Germany. 

Instead, suggests Lithuania, China should confront the full weight of the EU, representing 445 million people and with a $20 trillion GDP (measured by purchasing power), at a 27+1 summit. A splenetic warning from Global Times shows that the gutsy government in Vilnius is on the right track on this (and on Taiwan).

The EU is at least talking about challenging the already-wobbly BRI. European governments have tasked the Commission to find “high impact and visible projects” to rival the infrastructure scheme (for more on EU-China policy read Grzegorz Stec’s backgrounder for RUSI).

Words are plentiful, deeds less so. The most practical counter to China’s influence in Europe is the Three Seas Initiative, backed by some hefty US financing, which aims to boost connectivity between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Sea. But the scheme lacks an institutional framework or consistent leadership. This week’s summit flop in Sofia justifies our earlier scepticism about Bulgaria’s stewardship of the rotating presidency. Let’s hope Latvia (up next) does better. 

  • China used to be neutral on Israel-Palestine. Not any more. Applying heat to Israel punishes it for supporting US-led criticism of China’s human-rights record at the UN — and may help the party-state distract attention in the Islamic world from its treatment of Muslims. 
  • Lawmakers often show more spine than governments. In Britain and in the European Parliament  calls are growing for a political boycott of the Beijing Olympics. Andréa Worden of Sinopsis in Prague unpicks Olympic chief Thomas Bach’s collusion with China’s agenda: silencing human-rights and media-freedom concerns by squeezing out the UN. 
  • British business leaders continue to cosy up to Beijing, encouraged by the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, despite hawkish rhetorical shifts (analysed here). A good indicator will be whether the government use its shiny new national security investment tools to stop the sale of the country’s largest chip foundry to a Chinese buyer.
  • Germans are digesting the arrest of a think-tank expert identified only as “Klaus L” who is accused of spying for China (evidently a busy man, he also worked part-time for Germany’s BND spy service). Abundant biographical details made it easy for the Times and other foreign news outlets to name him. He’s innocent until proven guilty, so we won’t get into the lurid details at this stage. But Italian spy-catchers are boasting about their role in the case.
  • China has also stoked its relations with Russia on cyber-security, infrastructure and the Arctic. History suggests these deals usually lack substance — but they send a message to the United States. 

WOLF WARRIOR WATCH

  • China’s embassy to France walks off with the prize this week for its obsessive complaining about a newspaper for young people.
  • A special award for tastelessness goes to Li Yang, the consul in Rio, for mocking American rescue efforts after the fatal building collapse in Florida.

WHAT WE’RE READING

  • Nathan Law writes to Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian leader who now regularly vetoes EU protests about the crackdown in Hong Kong. “When I grow old … I don’t want to be somebody that my 20-year-old self would have hated”. 
  • The US Economic Commission on China has a new report on the party-state’s relations with Iran. Key features: Afghanistan, catching American spies, energy and missiles.
  • The New York Times reports on an epic struggle involving China’s attempts to buy next-generation chip-making technology from a little-known Dutch company. 
  • Australia’s must-read think tank, ASPI, on how China targets the diaspora with disinformation. 
  • Taiwan expert J Michael Cole laments its debilitating internal polarization. 
  • Lucia Gragnani for the CHOICE think tank (part of a new effort to encourage young female China-watchers) on the party-state’s “major setback” in Italy, despite its heavy investment in propaganda.

WHAT WE’RE LISTENING TO 

WHAT WE’RE WATCHING

This documentary on Chinese settlers in Siberia. 

Coda Story’s  Makuna Berkatsashvili, Mariam Kaparoidze and Mary Steffenhagen, and Michael Newton at CEPA contributed to this week’s China Influence Monitor, a joint project of CEPA and Coda Story. Sign up here to get the next edition straight in your inbox.

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Edward Lucas

Edward Lucas is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). He was formerly a senior editor at The Economist. Lucas has covered Central and Eastern European affairs since 1986, writing, broadcasting, and speaking on the politics, economics, and security of the region.

A graduate of the London School of Economics and long-serving foreign correspondent in Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, and the Baltic states, he is an internationally recognized expert on espionage, subversion, the use and abuse of history, energy security and information warfare.

He is the author of four books: The New Cold War (2008, newly revised and republished); Deception (2011); The Snowden Operation (2014), and Cyberphobia (2015).

@edwardlucas