BERLIN/BEIJING (Own report) – Berlin sees China’s growing economic presence in the EU’s eastern periphery as an increasing threat to German predominance over Eastern and Southeastern Europe. During his visit to Paris at the end of August, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned against the People’s Republic’s alleged “division of Europe.” Beijing’s cooperation with 16 Eastern and Southeastern European countries is threatening the EU’s “unity” and must be stopped. China should follow a “one-Europe policy.” German media and think tanks have been sharply criticizing Chinese economic activities in Eastern and Southeastern Europe since years. In a recent analysis, the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation (FDP) assailed the Czech government for signing a “declaration on the territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China” in view of comprehensive Chinese investments in that country. Beijing has reacted to these attacks by pointing to Germany’s dominant status in the EU.
In his speech in Paris at a conference of French ambassadors in late August, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned against Beijing’s attempt to “divide Europe.” “If we do not succeed in developing a single strategy towards China, then China will succeed in dividing Europe,” Gabriel declared. Referring to a multi-lateral cooperation agreement between the People’s Republic and 16 Eastern and Southeastern European countries, the Minister warned against the People’s Republic’s far reaching influence on EU policies. China’s “New Silk Road” initiative (german-foreign-policy.com reported ) is a “huge geopolitical, cultural, economic and ultimately, no doubt, also military strategy,” with nothing comparable from Brussels and Berlin, Gabriel claimed. He called on Beijing to cease its cooperation with the countries at the EU’s periphery: The EU should call on the Chinese government to “pursue a one-Europe policy and do not try to divide us”, just as China demands of Europe that it “pursue a one-China policy.”
The Czech President: “China’s Friend”
Gabriel’s public attacks are the culmination of increasing resentment Germany has been expressing over the socio-economic relations Eastern and Southeastern Europe are developing with China. In mid-August, the FDP-affiliated Friedrich-Naumann Foundation published a critical analysis on the rapprochement between Beijing and Prague, claiming that China is “increasingly influencing key sectors” of the Czech Republic’s “economy and infrastructure.” The German VW Group, with its Czech subsidiary Škoda, is currently the dominant economic factor in the country. The Naumann Foundation is now complaining about the conclusion of “secret” investment arrangements within the framework of the China-Czech Investment Forum, with the participation of the private entrepreneur Jaroslav Tvrdík – a former “member of the Czech Communist Party” – with “close ties to the Chinese government and the Communist Party of the People’s Republic.” Bejing has invested particularly in the Czech media sector – for example in the “Médea Group” and “Empresa Media,” often frequented by “China’s friend” Czech President Miloš Zeman.
“Political Power Games”
Concerned about Foreign Policy
“Speak with One Voice”
In May, the Financial Times of London also began to worry with German business circles about China’s growing economic activities in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, which have been welcomed by many governments of the region as a counterweight to German predominance. Alongside the Czech Republic, Hungary is am important location for China’s investments, according to the journal, receiving about 40 percent – considerably more than Poland’s 20 percent. Hungary has welcomed Chinese investments because of “the way China is received politically in these countries,” an expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) surmised to the Financial Times. Serbia, on the other hand has raised two-thirds of all Chinese capital to non-EU countries in the region, it was reported. The journal admits that China’s direct investment into EU countries in the region has accounted for only about 8 percent of all such funding in Europe. However, a marginal “divergence” of East European politicians from their “western counterparts” suffices to “raise concerns about the EU’s ability to speak with one voice.” In fact, the EU was unable to adopt a declaration noting China’s legal defeat over expansive Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. Hungary and Greece were unwilling to criticise China. Greece is also an important recipient of Chinese investments.
In reaction to Gabriel’s attack, the Director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, in Beijing, Cui Hongjian, published a harsh criticism of Germany’s aspiration to dominate Europe. It is not “uncommon” on the continent to “blame internal contradictions on external factors,” Cui wrote. Even though it is understandable that Germany, which wants to “secure its dominant status within the EU,” spares no efforts in calling for “European unity.” After all, in a divided EU it must expect that its “economic dividends” and its “political influence” could be carved up. In case of a split, the current European “division of labor” – with Germany “at the top of the value chain” – would probably collapse. “It’s hard to imagine where the German economy would end up.” Germany therefore regards the European single market and its value chain as “forbidden territory” for outside powers and is “excessively” vigilant, as in the case of the cooperation between the 16 Eastern and Southeastern European countries and China. The EU’s instability is not the result of this cooperation but of Germany’s attempt to “forcefully implement deflationary policies” in the European debt crisis. Berlin has thus increasingly engendered “voices of discontent” and deepened the “gap between northern and southern Europe.” If Germany shirks responsibility and shifts contradictions at will, it cannot “qualify for EU leadership” that it “actively seeks.”