The EU is ill-prepared to defend itself against Beijing’s influence on European politics, according to a report by the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the Global Public Policy Institute, two German think tanks.
“While Beijing’s efforts have received much less scrutiny than the efforts of Putin’s Russia, Europe neglects China’s increasing influence at its own peril,” the report warns. “Beijing’s political influencing efforts in Europe are bound to be much more consequential in the medium to long-term future than those of the Kremlin.”
Beijing’s growing influence is dangerous for Europe, the report warns, because “China’s political model is based on an authoritarian regime intent on strengthening a deeply illiberal surveillance state at home while also exporting — or at least trying to popularize — its political and economic development model abroad.”
China’s strategic investment in small and peripheral EU countries, such as Greece and Hungary, “has not only prompted EU member states to break ranks on European statements and policies opposed to Chinese interest; these investments have also encouraged Eastern and Southern European countries to publicly praise the virtues of Chinese policies,” the authors argue, citing an article by POLITICO.
“Several former German and French ministers are currently on China’s payroll and use their contacts in the current administrations to amplify China’s voice,” the report says.
The authors cite former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s new job at a Chinese state-backed investment fund and former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s role as chief adviser to the China-CEE Fund, which invests in Eastern European countries, as recent examples of China’s strategy to influence Britain’s highest political circles. Brown “has also been actively organizing conferences promoting China’s [Belt and Road Initiative, an investment plan] at his alma mater, the University of Edinburgh,” they write.
Brexit, the authors say, is a prime opportunity for China to get a foothold in a liberal country that’s central in the alliance of Western liberal democracies. “The U.K. may prove to be an ever more important bridgehead of Chinese interests in Europe, with Beijing taking advantage of the country’s need for a post-Brexit trade and finance strategy.”
China, the authors conclude, “is not just at Europe’s gates — it is now already well within them.”