Berlin Calls for a "One-Europe Policy"

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.

"Europe's Division"

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.[1] 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 ( reported [2]) 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,[3] 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"

According to the Naumann Foundation, Beijing's growing economic presence could have "an influence on the Czech government's policies," which could lead to "political power games," whose "consequences may soon be regretted."[4] Thus, Prague has already considerably altered its policy toward China, for example, by suspending all relations with the Dalai Lama and signing a "declaration on the territorial integrity of the People's Republic of China." President Zeman had also been the "sole head of state of a western democracy" on hand at Beijing's military parade celebrating the 70th Anniversary of China's victory over Japan. Earlier, German media had argued similarly. In March 2016, for example, the accusation was raised that the strategic alliance between Prague and Beijing - which had been initiated with investments valued at €3.5 billion, during President Xi Jingping's state visit - revolved around the promotion of "controversial economic interests," with "human rights" only "in the shadows."[5]

Concerned about Foreign Policy

Already in late 2015, the German business press was critically noting that the "Eastern Europeans" were beginning to "position" themselves, to benefit from the planned Chinese investments within the framework of the "New Silk Road." The kick-off was at the "16+1 Summit" in Serbia in 2014, where €10 billion in Chinese infrastructure investments from the Baltics to the Black Sea were enacted, along with the construction of a rail link between Belgrade and Budapest, as well as freeway projects in Montenegro and Macedonia. At the time, Brussels was observing these Chinese development-intensive projects "critically," because the agreements concluded "between Beijing and individual countries of the EU" were running counter to "the union's common foreign policy."[6] However, experts in Brussels disagreed with this assessment. In an analysis of China's relationship to the countries of Eastern and Southeastern Europe in the framework of the 16+1 group, the European Institute for Asian Studies in Brussels concluded that "there is nothing substantive in this relation ... which would go against the EU."[7]

"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.[8] 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.[9]

Beijing "Shocked"

Beijing has sharply rejected the German foreign minister's recent attacks.[10] Beijing is "shocked by Mr. Gabriel's remarks," a foreign ministry spokeswoman said, and hopes that Berlin can clarify what a "one-Europe policy" means and whether there is a consensus on 'one-Europe' among EU members. "We hope and believe that this remark about China's attempt to split Europe does not represent most European people's thinking."

"Forbidden Territory"

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.[11] 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."

[1] Gabriel warnt Europäer vor Spaltung durch China. 30.08.2017.
[2] See The New Silk Road (I) and China's Project of the Century.
[3], [4] Peking ante Portas. 15.08.2017.
[5] Umstrittene Wirtschaftsbeziehungen. 30.03.2016.
[6] China will "neue Seidenstraße" nach Osteuropa. 24.11.2015.
[7] Central and Eastern Europe's courtship with China: Trojan horse within the EU?, Januar 2014.
[8] EU uneasy over China's efforts to woo central and eastern European states. 08.05.2017.
[9] See Die Neue Seidenstraße (II) and The Limits of the Dictates.
[10] China questions German minister's 'one Europe' comments. 31.08.2017.
[11] Dreams of 'one Europe' need actions to match. 06.09.2017.