ANALYSIS: Chinese Premier Visits Europe as EU Proposes Economic Security Strategy

ANALYSIS: Chinese Premier Visits Europe as EU Proposes Economic Security Strategy
Chinese Premier Li Qiang (L) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speak to the media at the Chancellery on June 20, 2023 in Berlin, Germany. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Jessica Mao
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News Analysis

Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s first diplomatic trip overseas took him to Europe last week, where he sought ways to de-escalate the Chinese Communist Party’s trade confrontation with liberal democracies.

However, Li’s six-day visit to the top EU economies Germany and France coincided with the release of the European Union’s proposed new economic security strategy to address economic security risks and, as part of that, ensure that critical technologies do not flow into the hands of adversaries.
The European Economic Security Strategy paper, released on June 20, aims to convince the 27 EU member states to agree to tighten controls on technology exports and outflows that could be used for military purposes by rivals such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

EU diplomats say it may take months of debate before the strategy becomes a concrete policy. Still, it is an essential first step in preventing economic objectives from undermining the EU’s security.

Although the document does not name any specific country, European diplomats told the New York Times the strategy is “clearly” aimed at China.

Li has been the premier of the CCP’s State Council in China after he took office in March this year. He was in Germany for the talks on June 20 for the seventh round of Sino-German government consultations before heading to France for this first official visit and to attend French President Emmanuel Macron’s New Global Financing Pact June 22 to 23.

Chinese state media said that Li’s choice of Europe for his first overseas trip shows that China attaches great importance to developing relations with Europe and regards boosting China-Europe relations “as a priority for CCP diplomacy.”

But the EU doesn’t show signs of sharing that same enthusiasm for embracing cooperation with the CCP.

Li Yuanhua, a former professor at Beijing’s Capital Normal University, told The Epoch Times on June 21 that the EU’s economic security strategy document is a response to three years of the CCP’s draconian zero-COVID policies threatening the security of the global industrial supply chain.

“EU has recognized the weakness of a supply chain [reliant on China] for Europe,” Li Yuanhua said.

In addition to supply chain issues, the EU’s new policies are aimed at preventing authoritarian states from stealing sensitive technologies, including AI and microchips, and using them in the military sphere, thus posing a threat to all of humanity, according to Li Yuanhua.

EU View on Economic Security

The EU’s wariness of trade reliance with the CCP was evident for some time before its European Economic Security Strategy proposal, Chen Weijian, editor-in-chief of Beijing Spring, a monthly magazine that reports on the democracy movement in China, told The Epoch Times on June 21.
In the  14-page strategy, the European Commission expressed concern about poor coordination among member states and weak trade rules that could give opponents an economic stranglehold on EU economies or manufacturers. This problem needs to be addressed urgently, the commission said.
European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 5, 2020. (Yves Herman/Reuters)
European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on June 5, 2020. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

The European Commission considers the export and sharing of emerging technologies, such as AI and quantum computers, a potential security risk, as it could allow some hostile countries to use these technologies for their military purposes.

The strategy ensures that the supply chain for security-sensitive products is closed to hostile nations, designed to stop the leaks of European proprietary technologies in AI, chip manufacturing, and biotechnology.

The EU should also exclude potential rival countries and their companies from crucial infrastructure, such as ports and pipelines, and ban EU companies from exporting high-tech military applications to potential rivals, it states.

“In some cases, technology leakage risks strengthening the military/intelligence capabilities of those that could use them to undermine peace and security, especially for dual-use technologies such as Quantum, Advanced Semiconductors or Artificial Intelligence,” it reads.

The commission has proposed a list of dual-use technologies for risk assessment that the EU’s Trade and Technology Council could adopt by September this year. The list will consider for each nation “the risk of civil-military fusion, and the risk of their [technology] misuse for human rights violations.”

CCP’s Diplomacy in Europe

Li Qiang said during his German trip that the CCP is willing to “send a positive and strong signal for keeping the international industrial and supply chains stable, and for maintaining world peace and prosperity,” according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Such words seem to imply a semi-threatening underlying implication, reminding Europe and the world that China still plays a vital role in the international supply chain.

But in fact, the reality facing China is the opposite, Li Yuanhua said, as “China’s economy is on the verge of collapse and desperately needs foreign capital injections and overseas orders, [it is under] tremendous economic pressure, so the CCP is eager to rescue its collapsing economy by strengthening trade cooperation with Europe” after losing the support of the United States.

Bavaria's State Premier and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party Markus Soeder and China's Premier Li Qiang review an honor guard of Bavarian mountain riflemen at the Residenz, the former royal palace of Bavaria's Wittelsbach monarchs, in Munich, southern Germany, on June 20, 2022. (Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)
Bavaria's State Premier and leader of the Christian Social Union (CSU) party Markus Soeder and China's Premier Li Qiang review an honor guard of Bavarian mountain riflemen at the Residenz, the former royal palace of Bavaria's Wittelsbach monarchs, in Munich, southern Germany, on June 20, 2022. (Christof Stache/AFP via Getty Images)

Li Yuanhua said that another veiled mission for China’s premier—in addition to subtly warning the EU that withdrawing trade with China would be bad for world peace—was “lobbying Europe in the diplomatic arena to move closer to the CCP to counterbalance the United States.”

The CCP has been aware that the United States is bound to impose sanctions on it, as “no matter which party is in power in the United States, public opinion and its global strategy require it to restrict and balance the expansion of the CCP—this despotic regime that harms the people.”

Thus, the CCP can only pin its hopes on aligning with European powers to resist U.S. sanctions, Li Yuanhua said.

Meanwhile, Chen Weijan believes the EU’s steadily formed stance of de-risking concerning the CCP won’t be easily changed, especially by a visit from “a Chinese communist leader or some superficially low-profile rhetoric.”

What’s more, Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s policies for China have adopted a hard-line war-warrior diplomatic strategy, continued hostility toward the United States and Western institutions, and retractive and repressive tactics against foreign businesses, which has led to a large number of foreign companies fleeing China.

Under this internal and external political environment, Li Qiang’s visit to Europe “will be unlikely to achieve any tangible results,” Chen said.

Kane Zhang contributed to this report.
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