CHINA PLOTS TO DIVIDE EUROPE AS FIRST STEP TOWARDS AMERICA’S DOWNFALL AS SUPERPOWER
The friction between the US and China is growing more intense.
With China appearing to be driven into a corner in its trade war with America, President Xi Jinping left Beijing on March 21 on a six-day visit to Italy, Monaco, and France.
Xi stayed in Rome March 22-23 ostensibly to push his “Belt and Road” initiative. But his real aim was to divide the European Union and ultimately impair US-Europeanrelations—one of the crucial pillars of America’ world strategy.
Xi’s visit to Italy this time drew international attention as a vital factor that could affect, without exaggeration, the entire geopolitical dynamics of the world going forward. Whether Italy will come under China’s influence or manage to hold its ground as a free economy may be a turning point in determining whether the EU stays together or breaks up.
With this as the background, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte did in fact agree with Xi to join hands in pursuing the Chinese initiative. Italy thus became the first G7 nation to formally sign the Belt and Road document.
Professor Tadae Takubo, an international affairs expert and Deputy Director of the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, a privately-financed Tokyo think tank that I head, asserted:
“I think it reasonable to judge that China cleared the first hurdle towards its objective to drive a wedge into the EU. I am pretty sure the Chinese saw Italy as the weakest link in the union. The Italian economy has seriously deteriorated over the years, its incumbent administration being a coalition with two populist political parties that are anti-establishment and anti-immigration—the “5-star Movement” and the “League.” Neither party has good relations with the nations that play leadership roles in the EU, such as Germany and France. In point of fact, that’s what the Chinese apparently zeroed in on.”
The agreement Italy reached with China drew stern domestic opposition and criticism. Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who heads the “League,” refused to meet Xi and absented himself from an official banquet. Describing the agreement as nothing but a Trojan horse, major Italian media outlets warned that Italy would be absorbed deeper into the Chinese sphere of influence and utilized as a welcome base out of which to slip Chinese industrial spies into European nations and intensify military reconnaissance.
Protest against China’s Sinister Modus Operandi
Although it is not possible to say how China will infiltrate Europe, it is possible to predict what will likely happen in its relations with Italy. China already has signed Belt and Road memoranda with 13 of the EU’s 28 member nations, including Greece and Portugal. Its modus operandi is marked by the following characteristics.
Playing on the slumping economy of partner nations, China has offered large-scale investment and loans. To consummate a huge investment and loans project, infrastructure construction involving ports and roads is ideal, as China’s project to renovate Piraeus Port in Greece has demonstrated. Italy has cities like Trieste and Genoa in the north which are among the leading distribution centers in the Mediterranean. China undoubtedly will transform them into its own strongholds. Prof. Takubo points out:
“China’s military presence in the Mediterranean will increase significantly if it undertakes port construction projects in these regions to enable port-calls by large warships. That will have immeasurable effects on the security environment of all of Europe. Aware of the threat from China, the heads of European nations met in Brussels on March 21, the day before Xi’s summit with Mattarella and Conte. It must have been the first time since the Tiananmen Square Incident of 1989 that the heads of Europe met to discuss China.”
These leaders adopted a “ten-point action plan” vis-à-vis China, listing up protests against and warnings about China’s sinister doings as regards its development projects overseas. The leaders also called for: ending the adverse effects on the EU market of forced technology transfer in China and rampant state subsidies for Chinese corporations; establishing transparency and fairness as regards the requirements for foreign corporations interested in entering bids for government procurement projects in the EU; enforcing stricter qualifications for screening for direct investments in the EU by foreign countries; and setting up pan-European safety standards for 5G—the next generation of cellular mobile communications.
Each of these points constitutes a demand that China rectify its present policies to become a nation that better honors fair business and trade practices. But these issues would seem to be of no concern to China as it appears to be single-mindedly concentrating on a strategy to change the international balance of power in its favor. For that purpose, China will utilize its capabilities to the fullest extent—its economic and military power together with a diplomacy of false smiles whenever necessary.
Take Prime Minister Li Keqiang’s next trip overseas. He will be visiting Brussels on April 9 for talks with EU leaders and afterwards head for Croatia. There he will attend a “16+1” summit with central and eastern European leaders to specifically discuss the Belt and Road initiative.
The “16+1” summit was inaugurated in 2012, with participation by a total of 16 European nations that responded to China’s appeal. That only five of them are non-EU members is proof that a division of the EU has already set in, with former eastern and central Soviet Bloc European nations having already been absorbed into the Chinese sphere of influence.
Li undoubtedly will resort to every incentive imaginable to further widen the chasm Xi has managed to create in one corner of the EU. Be that as it may, already 13 EU members, including Greece and Portugal in addition to Italy, have signed Belt and Road memoranda with China. A division of the EU clearly appears to be in progress.
Beijing’s Unscrupulous Values
America’s sense of crisis with China was manifested in the address condemning China delivered last October 4 by Vice President Mike Pence at the Hudson Institute. Among other things, Pence asserted that the Chinese Communist Party is absolutely alien to free and fair competition; that China has for years been meddling with America’s domestic politics; that China’s exploits are far more sinister than Russia’s; and that the Chinese are dead-set on creating an Orwellian society.
That the “ten-point action plan” was adopted this month at the EU summit means EU members finally awakened to the realization of America’s sense of crisis with China nearly a half year after the Pence address.
Whether or not the free world can respond coherently to China’s impetuous overtures depends significantly on how the US will act—will the US stand firm on its political will? In that vein, the circumstances surrounding Trump have important bearings.
On March 24, Chief Justice William Barr said Special Counsel Robert Mueller found “no proof that Trump criminally colluded with Russia” and reached “no conclusion about whether he obstructed justice.”
While the Democrats will certainly not agree with Barr’s viewpoint, it can be said that Trump’s position has been enhanced following the Mueller report. On top of that, some research has shown that, quite unexpectedly, Trump is attracting growing support from Hispanic voters.
Trump’s approval rating, which was at 31% last December, rose to 50% in a survey conducted on January 17—an extremely encouraging indicator for Trump’s re-election prospects in 2020.
Some analysts question the latest survey’s credibility, claiming that Trump’s real approval rating remains at about 30%. But one thing is for certain: Trump’s support base has far from crumbled. With his power base strengthened, Trump himself and the Republican Party would no longer have to strive to reach a compromise with China. That would mean Washington could continue its battle against Beijing’s unscrupulous values.
Xi will continue to make determined efforts to undermine the EU’s unity by driving a wedge between its members as the first step towards accelerating America’s decline as a superpower. Bearing in mind the fierceness of the conflict between the US and China, we Japanese must be conscious of the vital importance of safeguarding our nation’s future with all our might. (The End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 846 in the April 4, 19 issue of The Weekly Shincho)