The End of the European Illusion on China
03 May 2021
With about one third of 2021 in the books, the COVID-19 pandemic remains the dominant force shaping the geopolitical environment. But don’t miss the quiet emergence of one of the year’s most significant geopolitical trends: Europe is hardening in its determination to confront the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Even as the Trump administration began to lead a domestic and international opinion shift on China from 2017-2019, many of Europe’s leaders, driven primarily by economic concerns, kept hoping that Europe could more or less keep brushing aside differences with a Marxist-Leninist regime that has consistently failed to respect international agreements, transparency in dealings or global norms of engagement.
Then reality hit. European democracies were incensed at Beijing’s deadly cover-up of the pandemic that originated in Wuhan, as well as China’s “wolf warrior” diplomats who publicly savaged European political and media voices for rightly condemning China’s mishandling of the outbreak. The trust deficit continued to grow as China continued to eviscerate Hong Kong’s promised autonomy and perpetrate genocide against Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang. So too were European leaders coming to understand, thanks in large part to the Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts, how Beijing’s push into Europe’s technological sector jeopardized national security, proprietary knowledge and online privacy and data protections—a major issue for many EU leaders. Dozens of European nations signed on to the State Department’s “Clean Network” strategy banning untrusted 5G vendors (i.e., Huawei) from Europe’s networks.