BRUSSELS—The European Union and NATO should take “robust” action, including considering sanctions, to counter the growing threat that Chinese investment poses to Western democracies, a new report has proposed.
The Alliance for Securing Democracy, a transatlantic advocacy group that is housed at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, warns that Beijing is using its economic clout to “make the world more conducive to authoritarianism.”
It says Europe has become cripplingly “divided” on the key security issues posed by China, including whether the state-owned telecom giant Huawei should be allowed to provide 5G services on the continent.
The report criticizes EU governments and NATO for failing to take the threat posed by China’s actions as seriously as those of Russia, stating that both counties are trying to fatally undermine the West. It states that Beijing is using large-scale investment, especially in countries such as Greece and the Czech Republic, as “leverage to limit the EU’s ability to counter China diplomatically.”
The authors point out that Athens, in particular, has a history of vetoing a tougher European approach toward Chinese transgressions, especially on issues such as human rights violations.
A Chinese state-owned company bought a controlling stake in the port of Piraeus, near the Greek capital, in 2016 in a move that has turned around the facility’s fortunes but alarmed some European allies.
The report states: “Russia and China are exploiting their national resources and commercial activity to gain leverage over European governments, to weaken them, to force changes in policy, and to cultivate influential proxies.
The report also warns about China’s attempts to divide the EU by developing relationships with “friendlier European states,” at the cost of EU unity.
“With China promising billions of euros, many European countries are faced with a choice between short-term pragmatic economic gain and their long-term strategic approach to emerging challenges.”
The study points out both Beijing and Moscow feel able to act with impunity because they don’t believe there will be repercussions from an EU that is often publicly divided on foreign policy decisions, which require unanimity.
“Russia, China, and other authoritarian regimes will continue to exploit Europe’s vulnerabilities as long as they do not face costly repercussions for their actions,” the report states.
“Exposure and attribution of attacks to the regimes that wage them, as well as proportionate and sustained measures in response, to include sanctions, send a clear message that brazen violations of international law and subversive interference in democracies will not be tolerated by Europe.”
The report’s authors advise European leaders to boost their public criticism of Beijing, saying: “Speaking out against unacceptable behavior is especially important and less common in the case of China.”
They add that both NATO and the EU are paying less attention to China’s economic investments, espionage, and technical rise, “all of which the Chinese government uses to interfere in transatlantic democracies and threaten transatlantic security.”
The study also states that European governments should block mobile giant Huawei from providing sensitive parts of 5G infrastructure, warning that the company is beholden to the Chinese state.
“Despite warnings from several national intelligence agencies about the security risks posed by Huawei, 18 several European democracies are hesitant to exclude its products from upcoming 5G networks,” the report states.
“Allowing companies affiliated with the government of China, a state known to frequently run cyber operations, to build the continent’s 5G infrastructure creates unnecessary additional risks and sacrifices the long-term security of Europe’s countries for short-term economic considerations.”
Among the other recommendations it makes to European governments are appointing a dedicated EU senior coordinator for foreign interference and creating a central anti-money laundering agency.