China Hopes to Divide the West, and It Knows Where the Weakest Link Lies

Bejing knows the EU’s leading states don’t want to break off relations, and it’s placing its bets on them holding firm

“Even paranoids have real enemies,” is a famous aphorism attributed to a prominent political figure of the past. What it means is that even the habit of suspecting everyone around you of a conspiracy is no guarantee that such suspicions are unfounded. So the reaction of British and American observers to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to France, Hungary and Serbia is, in principle, justified.

The trip itself took place last week – and a feature of it was the warm welcome given to the Chinese leader in all three European countries. There is a reason for the nervous reactions of the US and Britain: China is indeed placing one of its bets on dividing the West.

More specifically, it is using France, Germany and several other EU states as the “weak link” in the broad Western coalition aimed at preventing the collapse of its hegemony in world affairs.

Such a split will not be fatal for the US position in Western Europe – after all, the Americans have a firm grip on their junior allies. But a close relationship between China and part of continental Europe could cause some problems for US diplomacy, which is already “frayed” by numerous gaps in its positions.

The Chinese authorities themselves, it should be noted, have never said that they want to separate the Europeans from the US. Moreover, official Beijing always emphasizes this in public statements and makes it clear to the expert community through closed communication channels. It does it so convincingly that it even worries some Russian observers.

In reality, however, we should welcome any effort by our Chinese friends to sow doubt in the narrow ranks of the collective West.

China’s actions are based on several intentions, assumptions and its subjective view of world politics.

First, Beijing is trying to delay as long as possible the process of its slide into direct conflict with the US and its allies. This confrontation is strategic in nature and is linked to basic competition for access to the world’s resources and markets. Another potential flashpoint is the island of Taiwan, whose de facto independence from China is supported by the US, which continues to supply arms.

In principle, Western Europeans don’t have any significant stake in the confrontation between the US and China. And their attitude to participating in it is purely negative. This confrontation is assessed in two ways.

On the one hand, the confrontation with China could lead to the US reducing its presence in Europe and continuing to shift the burden of fighting Russia to its Western European allies. On the other, Paris and Berlin have an opportunity to strengthen their position within the West and pursue a gradual normalization of relations with Moscow. The latter is clearly what they are striving for, albeit under the pressure of a host of restrictions.

Based on this behavior, Beijing seems to believe that the more uncertain Western Europe’s position is, the later Washington will launch a decisive offensive against China itself. This ultimately works in favor of China’s main strategy – to defeat the US without engaging in the direct armed confrontation that the Chinese rightly fear.

Second, cutting Beijing’s economic ties with Western Europe will certainly be a blow to the locals, but it will be even more damaging to China’s wellbeing and the state of its economy. Right now, the EU is China’s second leading foreign economic partner after the ASEAN states.

This counts all of the countries, but of course everyone knows that it is the continental partners – Germany, France and Italy – that make the biggest contribution. And a bit from the Netherlands as a European transport hub.

So China’s relations with these countries are described as warm, and reciprocal visits are always accompanied by the signing of new investment and trade agreements.

The erosion, let alone severance, of relations with Western Europe is therefore a major threat to the Chinese economy, which provides for the welfare of the people, the main achievement of the Chinese authorities since the 1970s.

Beijing does not want to risk this, because otherwise the main source of support for the government’s policies and a source of national pride will disappear. All the more so because China is well aware of how reluctant the Western Europeans were to join the US sanctions campaign against Russia.

This is proof that the major EU countries will not willingly cut economic ties with China. And in the case of Serbia, where President Xi was received in a particularly solemn manner, there is an opportunity to take over political positions from the West. Serbia has no prospect of joining the EU or NATO, so China, with its money, is a real alternative for Belgrade.

Third, China sincerely believes that economics play a central role in world politics. Despite its ancient roots, Chinese foreign policy culture is also a product of Marxist thinking, in which the economic base is vital in relation to the political superstructure.

It is impossible to argue with this view, especially since China’s political position in the world in recent decades is a product of its economic success and self-made wealth.

And it does not matter that economic success has not allowed Beijing to resolve any of the really important issues in world politics – the Taiwan question, full recognition of Tibet as Chinese, or maritime territorial disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines.

The main thing is that the voice of Chinese diplomacy is being heard in world politics. And this is very much felt by ordinary Chinese citizens, whose confidence in the bright prospects of their homeland is an important factor in national foreign policy.

As a result, Beijing is confident that deepening economic ties with the EU is the surest way to get its leading powers to curb the adventurist policies of the US.

And what do Western Europeans themselves need from relations with China? Things are different here. For Germany and France, China’s economic direction is important. The smaller countries that Xi Jinping visited simply want Chinese investment to balance the influence of Brussels and Washington. In Hungary, the Chinese economic presence has always been significant.

From a political point of view, China is another bet that France is making in its maneuvering between total subservience to the US and a degree of independence. There is no reason to believe that Paris seriously expects China to support its plans regarding the Ukrainian crisis.

And they do not count on Beijing’s serious influence on Moscow – they are not such fools, even with Emmanuel Macron at the helm. But it is precisely the meetings and negotiations with the Chinese leader that are seen in Paris as a resource for French diplomacy.

Just as Kazakhstan, for example, sees contacts with the West or China as a resource in negotiations with Russia. Of course, no one there is going to anger the US – they can receive serious retaliation for that. But they will never refuse to play a little game of independence.

I would venture to say that for Russia all this is neither a foreign policy problem nor a threat to our position. Relations between Moscow and Beijing are not at a level where either of them would engage in serious intrigues behind the other’s back.

And in itself, slowing down competition and the slide towards conflict between China and the West may even be tactically advantageous: there is no reason to believe that Russia would be interested in a collapse of the world economy or in seeing Beijing concentrate all of its resources on fending off an American offensive.


By Timofey Bordachev

This article was first published by Vzglyad newspaper and was translated and edited by the RT team 



Republished by The 21st Century

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of




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