EU wooing dragon

Wednesday 27th May, 2020

European Union (EU) Foreign Affairs Chief Joseph Borrell is sure to incur the wrath of US President Donald Trump. He has recently told a group of German diplomats that the world is now witnessing the dawn of the Asian Century, and called upon the EU to formulate a robust strategy in respect of China. This may be taken as a call for the EU to refrain from supporting Trump’s hostile campaign against China.

President Trump’s pugnacity and tendency to bulldoze his way through in trying to ‘make America great again’ may have made the EU wary of emulating him in dealing with China and adopt a balanced approach, taking into consideration the new global economic reality. The EU, however, is critical of what it calls lack of transparency and reciprocity on the part of Beijing. It has also taken exception to the manner in which China is handling the Hong Kong crisis.

It is only natural that China has come under heavy criticism for its handling of protests, but even if Beijing were to soften its stand on Hong Kong, the US would find some other issue to fuel its anti-Chinese campaign. The US needs a bogey. During the Cold War era, it had Russia, and now it is using China. The US cannot rely on its military might to tame China for obvious reasons; it would have been more than happy to weaken China the way it once debilitated Russia, but Washington’s problem is that Xi Jinping is vastly different from Mikhail Gorbachev, and the Chinese economy is robust unlike Russia’s when Perestroika and Glasnost were introduced.

Meanwhile, it is not out of any love for democracy that the EU and the US have taken up the cudgels for the people of Hong Kong; they are only using democracy as an instrument to further their interests. They had no qualms about backing the repressive Saddam Hussein regime, for years, prior to the invasion of Kuwait. The US provided Hussein with ‘crop spraying’ helicopters during the Iran-Iraq war, knowing that they would be used for chemical attacks on humans. A US Senate Inquiry revealed, in 1995, that Washington had supplied to Iraq samples of many strains of germs. Iraq obtained uranium from Portugal, France and Italy, and embarked on building centrifuge enrichment facilities with German assistance. Luckily, Hussein failed to produce weapons of mass destruction.

Besides, thousands of Chagos islanders, evicted by the UK for the construction of a US military base, have been demanding that they be resettled, for decades, but in vain. A leaked British diplomatic cable refers to these people as ‘Tarzans’ and ‘Man Fridays’. Has the EU ever pressured the US and the UK to respect the democratic rights of the Chagonese people and/or heeded protests by Mauritius against the breaking up of its territory?

China has been playing its cards well. It moved in to help Africa financially when Europe tied its aid to the promotion of democracy and human rights, there, while western corporate giants were thriving on arms sales to terrorist groups and repressive regimes and exploiting natural resources in that continent. Europe had to change its strategy, be less hypocritical and compete with China in helping Africans. China assisted the EU during the global financial meltdown in the late noughties, and chose to remain neutral on Brexit unlike Russia.

China is not likely to do as the EU says in the name of strengthening its ties with the latter. It has become a global economic powerhouse because it has acted cautiously without giving in to foreign pressure or accepting unsolicited advice from the western bloc. Its autochthonous economic model has worked so much so that it has been in a position to help even the EU. Its belt and road initiative may have suffered a temporary setback due to the economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus crisis, but the mega project is on track, and Beijing will pursue its geo-strategic and economic goals with renewed vigour in time to come.

It will be interesting to see how India, which has drifted towards the US in the post-Cold War era, will position itself in the overall scheme of things in the present global context. Sri Lankan politicians who are trying to be more anti-Chinese than Trump should take cognisance of the EU’s dramatic policy shift at issue.


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