Europe and Biden’s China policy; and Huawei’s odd ally — Ericsson

Edward Lucas



The Chinese ambassador in London is furious about councillors in Tower Hamlets in east London, home to a £250 million development which will be China’s largest embassy in Europe. Pesky locals keep raising human rights issues including repression of Uyghurs and the crackdown in Hong Kong. Firebrand campaigner Rabina Khan, author of this motion at a recent council meeting, told me she wants to give the site, near the Tower of London, a new postal address. I suggested Tiananmen Martyrs Court, London EC3.   

But nothing compares to the Chinese embassy in Canberra, which has instructed Australia to dismantle media, academic and political freedoms and change its foreign policy if it wishes to normalize relations. Europeans next? 

The US needs European allies against China — and Germany will be crucial

China will be the Biden administration’s top foreign policy priority. Whether Europe helps or hinders will set the tone for transatlantic ties.

Julianne Smith — tapped for a senior role under Biden — outlines in a new paper with colleagues how the new administration should handle the Europe-China dossier. Key points: 

  • act with urgency; 
  • seek coordinated policies not uniformity; 
  • remember Brussels is not a one-stop shop, so engage EU member states too; 
  • look beyond the transatlantic space to like-minded democracies, notably Taiwan, Japan, Australia, India, and Canada.

Germany will be crucial. Its newly hawkish stance on China is gaining momentum. Manfred Weber, a conservative politician who leads the center-right grouping in the European Parliament, told the South China Morning Post that the new RCEP free-trade deal (which includes China but not the US) was a wake-up call. “We need a reunification of the so-called Western world, now with Joe Biden as a constructive partner, to face this challenge of China. It’s the key question for the upcoming decade,” he said.

But just under half — 45.7% of Germans —  think that preventing China’s geopolitical expansion is a foreign policy priority. In Germany’s export destinations by value, China overtook France in the first nine months of 2020, Reuters reports. The news agency quoted an official saying that China was likely to overtake the United States in the top spot by the end of the year. Reading between the lines of this report, German businesses are alarmed at worsening relations and pushing back hard. 

Overall opinion is hardening. A survey of 13 European countries by the Palacky University Olomouc finds a growing, negative consensus, with views of China worsening most sharply in the UK and Sweden.  Russia, Serbia and Latvia are the exceptions. China still polls well in the Western Balkans, where as this study shows, the pandemic damaged the EU’s standing. Four out of ten Serbs think China is their country’s largest aid donor. Actually, it’s the EU. 

And China’s commercial clout in Europe is overstated, says a new study by the MERICS think tank. Though trade rose eightfold from 2000 to €560 billion and China is the EU’s largest trade partner, European markets and the US matter as much, or more. The companies surveyed generated 11% of 2019 revenues in China. And China has a lot to lose too. Takeaway: the EU’s China policy “should not be constrained by an overblown perception of economic vulnerability.” 


The Chinese telecoms giant gained an unlikely ally this week – with public support from the chief executive of its main competitor. In carefully worded comments Börje Ekholm, boss of Ericsson, implicitly criticized Sweden’s ban on Huawei’s equipment being used in 5G networks, saying that open markets and competition were important, and delays in rolling out the new standard would hurt innovation. In Sweden, the issue is being fought out in the courts. Cynics wonder if the Swedish company is worried about its own investments in China. 

Less pleasant for Huawei was the indictment of a former employee of its Warsaw office. The unnamed Chinese citizen, named only as Weijing W. was charged with spying for China, alongside a former Polish intelligence officer, Piotr D, who worked on a project protecting fiber-optic communications. 

And new IT Security legislation is expected to land in the German parliament in the coming weeks. The conservative lawmaker Johann Wadephul says it will give a “very strong & clear answer” on Huawei’s role. 

What we’re listening to: 

This thought-provoking BBC radio program on the UK and China.

What we’re watching: Australian Sky News on the great Anne-Marie Brady, a New Zealand academic silenced by Chinese pressure on her university.

What we’re watching out for.
Two upcoming court cases: Serbian environmentalists are suing a Chinese-owned polluter; and Taiwanese in Norway, who object to a government ruling that designates them as “Chinese,” may take their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. 

What we’re following: We’ve created a list on Twitter bringing together some of the key China-watchers. Suggestions about accounts to add (or drop) are welcome. You can DM me on @edwardlucas. 

What we are reading: A new report from Jamestown on how China’s vaccine diplomacy is revamping the Health Silk Road; and this from PISM in Poland on the economic and political implications of the Digital Silk Road.

What we are not reading: A new “don’t annoy China”  book by the former British LibDem leader Vince Cable. Leave aside the content: the cover looks like a parody of bad China books.

That’s it for this week – we will be back in your inboxes a week on Thursday, as we are skipping an issue next week while our American colleagues observe Thanksgiving.

Best regards