Sunday, June 16, 2024

China courts EU’s far-right and far-left

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Decoding transatlantic relations with Beijing.



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HI CHINA WATCHERS. This is Stuart Lau reporting from Brussels, with all the latest Europe-China news for you. Phelim Kine will be with you from the U.S. on Thursday.


EXTREME WAYS TO FIND FRIENDS: As Europe’s centrist parties largely endorse a tougher approach to China’s economic policies (more below), China has been courting controversial far-left and far-right parties.

That’s according to a new research report from the Czech Association of International Affairs by Kara Němečková and Ivana Karásková, who was until recently a special advisor to the European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourová.

Why now: The EU elections are less than 10 days away. And the far-right groups are openly flirting with the idea of forming a supergroup in order to form an alliance with the center-right block, traditionally the most powerful. Will China policy be up for electoral trade-offs?

Le Pen’s allies are Beijing’s too: Loyalists to Marine Le Pen, the French far-right leader from National Rally who twice failed in presidential bids against Emmanuel Macron, criticized the EU approach to China, saying it’s aligning Europe too closely with the U.S.

European Parliament lawmaker Thierry Mariani from National Rally, for instance, condemned U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s 2022 visit to Taiwan, which he viewed as a provocation. Le Pen’s lead candidate for the European Parliament election, Jordan Bardella, also questioned the need to focus on discussing Hong Kong, saying in 2019: ““Before we get involved in what China is doing in Hong Kong, let’s use common sense and first worry about what China is doing in Europe.”

And in Germany: The far-right Alternative for Germany group has been embroiled in scandals. The lead candidate, Maximilian Krah, has stopped campaigning (even though he’s still on the list) after his assistant was arrested on suspicion of spying for China. Police also raided Krah’s office. Indeed, his party had grown so notorious that the ID Group expelled it from the family last week.

“Different beds, same dream”: The Czech research found that the far-left is not much different when it comes to the pro-Beijing stance.

“Despite the ideological differences of the ID and Left groups, there are some discernible trends on specific issues in which they tend to exhibit similar voting patterns,” said the report by the Prague-based Association for International Affairs. “This includes opposition towards resolutions tackling foreign interference or the recommendation on EU relations with China.”

Invisible love … “While the manifesto [of the Left Group] does not explicitly mention China, it contains arguments and proposals that align with Chinese interests,” the research found.

… and actually toeing China’s line: The paper also found that the far-left lawmakers repeatedly introduced legislative amendments backing Chinese official rhetoric.

“These amendments have called for promoting dialogue and cooperation with China,
criticised the EU for adopting a confrontational policy that allegedly seeks to interfere
with and destabilise China, and advocated for respecting the One China principle,” which is Beijing-speak for Taiwan’s subordinate status.

VIP treat: The head of the International Department of the Chinese Communist Party, Liu Jianchao, met last year with some senior Left Group lawmakers, including Martin Schirdewan, a co-president of the group and leader of the German Die Linke (the left) party.

“The Left Party places significant importance on engaging in in-depth discussions on issues of mutual trust with the CPC [Communist Party of China],” Liu’s office quoted Schirdewan as saying.

The Irish duo: The even more pro-China Irish duo from the far-left, Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, are not doing that well in the polls. Suzanne Lynch has the story.


MORE RISK CHECKS COMING ON CRITICAL TECH? The European Commission is considering whether to further investigate risks that its four priority critical technologies could fall into the wrong hands, according to an internal note seen by my colleagues Camille Gijs and Barbara Moens.

As part of its new economic security strategy, the EU is looking at ways to shield sensitive technologies, including advanced semiconductors, Artificial Intelligence, quantum technology and biotech, from rivals such as China. Those four technologies would become a priority target for future measures on controlling exports and screening outbound investments. 

New step: Based on a first batch of risk assessments shared with EU capitals late March, Brussels is now looking “to deepen the joint risk assessments on critical technologies,” according to the document, prepared by the Belgian EU Presidency and dated May 21. 

More scrutiny: Now, the Commission is looking to “conduct, jointly with the EU Member States, in-depth reviews into risks identified,” according to the document, which helped guide a discussion between national top envoys to the EU on May 24 regarding the next steps for the work within the Council of the EU. 

This extra step would then help decide which data EU capitals should collect from their stakeholders, such as which transactions should be screened, and over which time period.

Read more here


CAN’T SEE THE TRADE WAR FOR ALL THE PROBES:  We (try to) answer the question of whether the EU and China are already locked in a trade war. Here’s the write-up by our trade reporter Koen Verhelst.

Rule-based smoke and mirrors: Of course, everyone is holding their breath on the first glimpse of duties on the Chinese electric vehicle subsidy investigation. But there’s a lot more going on, with the EU’s trade arm initiating no less than 13 fresh probes into products as diverse as vanillin, tinplate and steel tubes.

So when is something a trade war? Essentially, each side will try to claim for as long as possible they are merely defending themselves against the other’s unsavory tactics. 

The EU sees China’s economic model as unsustainable and unfair because it creates a glut of products on the global market. Beijing, on the flip side, sees the EV probe as a clear political tool because Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced it in her biggest annual speech instead of a tucked-away Commission webpage.

There’s more: Europe is now wielding some of the economic weapons it has built up in recent years, using a combination of trade and competition tools to tackle Chinese bids for European wind park tenders and sales of airport security scanners, and its own procurement of medical equipment.

Retaliation on the horizon: Cognac is already in Beijing’s crosshairs, with the governing body’s director-general Raphaël Delpech telling Camille :“We can’t imagine for a second that we’ll be knocked out of the Chinese market because of this affair.”

It’s just smart campaigning: “The Chinese government is very good at mobilizing someone else to do their lobbying for them,” said trade lawyer Laurent Ruessmann, who has represented European solar producers. He remembers the previous trade war. “Back then, it was the German auto industry, and now it’s the same thing with cognac. China just wants them to march up to Macron and say ‘We have to buckle!’”

So are we really in a bloody, all-guns-blazing, take-no-prisoners trade war? Maybe it’s too early to tell. The next few weeks will be crucial for the course the relations take. And it also depends on who you’re asking. For a while now, the EU has been inventing new words for becoming less dependent on single countries — “de-risking” being the favorite buzzword in the Brussels bubble.

Read more in our coproduction.


FOCUS ON SANCTIONS: Beijing served up its version of payback last week to former chair of the House Select Committee on China, Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) by placing him on a sanctions list. Gallagher’s year-plus at the helm of the committee probing Beijing’s national security threats to the U.S. meant that he “grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said last week. Gallagher shrugged off the sanctions, which included the standard punishment of a ban on travel to China and doing business with Chinese entities. 

Beijing’s blacklist. Gallagher joins a long list of U.S. citizens that China has sanctioned in recent years in reprisal for criticism of Chinese policies. They include lawmakers Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) who Beijing sanctioned in 2020 and 28 members of the former Trump administration —including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former deputy national security advisor Matt Pottinger —in 2021. 

For career China hawk politicians, that can be positive branding. House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Michael McCaul (R-Texas) called Beijing’s move to sanction him last year “a badge of honor.” For non-politicians, such sanctions can have more complicated impacts. 

China watcher spoke to three U.S. citizens that Beijing sanctioned in 2021 about life on the Beijing blacklist.

The family separation factor. The appearance of Nury Turkel’s name on a Chinese sanctions list means that he may never see his family members in China again. The sanctions bar Turkel, a Uyghur human rights activist and a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, from traveling to China to visit his elderly mother. And he says that Beijing is barring her from traveling to the U.S. “It’s brutal and painful beyond words — I haven’t given up, but it’s becoming evident by the day that I won’t see her again in this life,” Turkel said 

Welcome to the team. When Beijing sanctioned James Carr, a then-commissioner on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, he got a sympathetic nod from lawmakers already on the Beijing blacklist. “I got a nice note from a senator or two who said ‘welcome to the team,’” Carr said. Joining “the team” ended Carr’s ability to travel to China where he has personal and professional contacts. “I was slightly disappointed this happened but it hasn’t changed my life … most hurtful is that I have some very good friends in China, but that has not broken our friendship or [made them] quit doing business with me,” Carr said.

“You’re their enemy.” Being on Beijing’s blacklist can have potential impacts beyond an authoritarian name-and-shame exercise. “It’s weird to have arguably the second most powerful country in the world say your name and say you’re their enemy,” said the International Republican Institute’s regional director for East Asia and the Pacific, Adam King.

That heightens King’s vigilance about the possibility, however remote, that Beijing might someday seek to punish him in more sinister ways.  “I pay attention to countries that have extradition treaties with China —I don’t think they’re going to go after me, but I also don’t think that ‘the two Michaels’ thought [Chinese authorities] were going to go after them the day before they were taken, so you have to have a greater situational awareness,” King said


AP: China has threatened trade with some countries after feuds. They’re calling ‘the firm’ for help.

BLOOMBERG: China creates $47.5 billion chip fund to back nation’s firms.

REUTERS: China’s premier hails ‘new beginning’ with US-allied South Korea, Japan.

MANY THANKS: To editor Christian Oliver, reporters Camille Gijs and Koen Verhelst, and producer Giulia Poloni.

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