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Kow Tow : The EU’s approach To China

Kow Tow : The EU’s approach To China
Tibetans on a pilgrimage to Lhasa; they are kow-towing every few steps
Image by Gao

Back in the days of Imperial China, the full Kow Tow was performed by those in the Emperor’s presence; it amounted to “three kneelings and nine knockings of the head on the ground”. Locals and visitors were expected to do so, and woe betide those who failed to display proper obsequiousness. Today however the physical movements are no longer required at the gates of the Forbidden Place. Instead according to the Cambridge Dictionary it means that one shows “too much respect to someone in authority, always doing what you are told and changing what you do in order to please them”.

This is precisely the action just taken by the EU, supposedly a strong component of the Western alliance in the face of Chinese aggressive actions, both over COVID where nothing they say can be taken at face value, in intellectual property, and now in direct territorial threats.

What is happening in the great domain controlled by Josep Borrell, the Spanish socialist who these days is the EU’s foreign minister, or to give him his formal title High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission?

His job spec is pretty clear, as is the ambition of the EU, he is to promote the “EU as a global leader, working to strengthen the EU’s capacity to act autonomously and promote its values and interests globally”. This particularly in the field of defence, where his job is to progress “towards a European Defence Union”.

In a multipolar world, what this has increasingly seemed to mean is that the EU must plough it’s own furrow. Given that there are only two global superpowers, and the EU likes to think of itself as an equal to them, it is clear that the EU feels the need to be somewhere equidistant between the US and China.

This causes it to engage in a moral high wire act, requiring it to claim some level of moral equivalence between the two. One an open, democratic entity with a vibrant, obstreperous free press and a cantankerous and very vocal population and with a history of coming to Europe’s aid with men and money at times of Europe’s home-made distress. The other is China — the communist dictatorship that is currently the source of the COVID -19 virus that is so plaguing the world.

This has come to a head in the last couple of weeks over some very undiplomatic wrangling that has sent fault lines between EU countries and has embarrassed the EU foreign affairs establishment. Last week was the 45th anniversary of the opening of diplomatic relations between the China and the European Economic Community. Zhang Ming, the Chinese Ambassador to the EU wrote a long hagiographical letter to the EU, highlighting,

“In face of the pandemic, China and the EU choose to work together in solidarity” he claimed. Then with no sense of irony “We need greater openness. The COVID-19 has indeed triggered a lot of thoughts on globalization. Yet interdependence is not outdated. Neither decoupling nor self-isolation offers a way out. China will not stall its efforts to deepen reform and expand opening-up. We hope that the EU and other global partners will join us in safeguarding an open environment for global cooperation, upholding the multilateral trading system and keeping global supply chains stable.”

A pendant letter, signed by all the EU Ambassadors in China, and co-ordinated by the EU’s own head of mission there had been censored by the Chinese authorities. The original stated,

“But the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world over the past three months has meant that our pre-existing plans have been temporarily side-tracked”.

The version printed in the China Daily instead read,

“But the outbreak of the coronavirus has meant that our pre-existing plans have been temporarily side-tracked”.

These changes had been accepted by the EU’s head of mission, the French career diplomat, Nicolas Chapuis, and later the censored article was retweeted by Gunnar Wiegand, Director of the Asia/Pacific region for the EU – subsequently deleted.  However some countries, notably Germany, France and Italy, tweeted the original letter with the offending phrases included.

Two days later the EU put out a statement on its website,

“The EU Delegation strongly regrets that the Op-Ed was not published in its original unedited form by the China Daily”.

Regrets. Two days after accepts.

Meanwhile the official Chinese response is to demonise the US, and attack all aspects of the West that do not subscribe to their own superiority as is made obvious in the Global Times, a Chinese Government mouthpiece,

“the results of many Western countries’ COVID-19 fight have made some EU politicians reflect on their national crisis management system. Objectively, China’s achievements in the COVID-19 fight have somewhat raised doubts in Western democratic decision-making mechanisms and their belief in so-called human rights.”

The EU needs to make a choice, is it going to be a standard bearer of freedom and liberalism, or is it going to spend the next few decades disappearing further into the orbit of Communist China?

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