We’ll meet the China challenge

 

We’ll meet the China challenge

“No one can stop the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” So said China’s top foreign affairs official, Yang Jiechi, last week, as he warned the US not to interfere in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. But stopping China is exactly what America’s new president plans to do, even if he has disavowed the aggressive approach favoured by his predecessor. “We’ll meet the China challenge,” declared Joe Biden, “and ensure the American people win.” He has set up a Pentagon task force to deal with everything from cyberespionage to defence strategy. And he wants his European allies to help him, Yet since China offers European companies a “treasure trove” of growth opportunities, many prefer not to. “A situation to join all together against China is a scenario of the highest possible conflictuality,” as President Macron put it. This is culpably short-sighted. Europe must face up to the undeniable truth that China poses a strategic and economic threat to the democratic West.

That message seems to be gaining traction in Britain, In a new survey, fully 41% of British adults said they saw China as a “critical threat” to the UK. As we’re starting to learn, it pursues its quest for global supremacy in quite subtle ways, Consider the leverage it has built up in British higher education, which now receives £1.7bn in revenue from Chinese students. (One in eight students at Manchester University are Chinese, the highest population at any European university.) And this week, a detailed report revealed how British universities, by teaming up with and securing funding from Chinese military institutes, have been “inadvertently arming China”. More than its insidious moves against Britain, it’s China’s blatant crimes against humanity – the oppression of its Uighur minority, in particular – that should prompt us to take a stand, Yet what action to take? Trade sanctions are notoriously counterproductive, though micro-sanctions targeted at specific regime individuals can prove effective up to a point.

One thing we do know, is that without Western technology some Chinese industrial sectors will collapse. Look what occurred when, in its final weeks, the Trump administration published a Military End User export list banning export of key aircraft technology: it could derail China’s aviation industry. So ultimately, the key to stopping China is not trade sanctions, it is foregoing trade links, China’s agenda for success depends on partnerships with Western companies: forging links with foreign firms is the way it extracts the know-how it needs to catch up. This was well illustrated in a recent report showing how minutely it has targeted the industrial equipment and electronics sectors of the German economy “with the aim of pillaging them”. If Europe’s nations fail to see that they are being played, it will be China, not the US, who wins.

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