As renewed tensions between the United States and China arise, other countries’ governments are calling for unity to avoid falling back into isolationism or unilateralism.
The world’s two biggest economies have been in a tussle over tariffs since President Donald Trump took office, producing a depressing impact on global trade. Yet between the current dispute over Hong Kong and Chinese Muslims to spying accusations and control of the South China Sea, the rift is only widening. What do other countries’ governments think about this and how are they preparing to defend their own interests?
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been clear in her government’s desire to preserve trade and cooperation on global warming with Beijing but says a security law tightening Beijing’s control over Hong Kong is a “difficult issue.” Germany has yet to take a final position on Chinese tech giant Huawei despite U.S. pressure to exclude its equipment from next-generation telecom networks as a possible security risk. Peter Beyer, the government’s coordinator for trans-Atlantic cooperation, told the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland newspaper group: “We are experiencing the beginning of a Cold War 2.0.” Yet while he was critical of both sides, he was quick to emphasize: “The U.S. is our most important partner outside the EU, and that is how it will stay.”
France has declined to join Trump in criticizing Beijing’s handling of the coronavirus, but the country’s legislators applauded Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian last week when he condemned abuses of minority Uighurs in China’s northwest, highlighting “mass arrests, disappearances, forced labor, forced sterilizations, and the destruction of Uighur cultural heritage.”
Europe’s “strategic relations” with China will be an issue for the European Union while Germany holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation bloc, Merkel said this month, with EU foreign ministers yet to agree on a common position on China. On the issue of Hong Kong, proposals include closer scrutiny of exports of sensitive technology to the territory and changing visa policies for its residents. But so far there is no talk of economic sanctions or targeting Chinese officials with penalties.
“The message is that the recent actions change the rules,” the top EU foreign policy official, Josep Borrell, said recently. “This will require a revision of our approach and will clearly have an impact on our relations.”
The Asian View
As in many European countries, South Korea is likewise divided between its main military ally and its biggest trading partner.
In 2016, Beijing destroyed supermarket operator Lotte’s business in China after the conglomerate sold land in South Korea to the government for an anti-missile system against China’s wishes. Washington, meanwhile, is disappointed by South Korea’s desire to ease sanctions on North Korea to encourage disarmament and uneasy about its use of Huawei technology. Trump has also been vocal in his criticism of the cost of stationing 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea to protect against North Korean threats. A cost-sharing agreement expired in 2019 without the two countries reaching a consensus on how to proceed.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tried to appease both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Donald Trump, but the COVID-19 crisis and a recent border clash that killed at least 20 Indian soldiers have fueled anti-Chinese sentiment in the country. Protesters have called for boycotts of Chinese products and burned flags. The Indian government recently banned the popular Chinese video-sharing app TikTok and other Chinese apps.
“For India it is opportune that the U.S. is applying more pressure on China, and if it can get it to behave, that would be welcomed by the entire neighborhood,” said Jayadev Ranade, president of the Center for China Analysis think tank in New Delhi.
Elsewhere in the world
The African Development Bank said last year trade disruption due to the tariff war could lead to a 2.5% drop in economic output for some African countries.
“Let’s not be sucked back into isolationism or unilateralism. We need each other today more than ever,” Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said an Atlantic Council event last month. “We’re not going to fight coronavirus if one country fails and another succeeds.” The 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations has avoided taking steps that would alienate Washington or Beijing, both important trading partners. “The great powers, as they escalate their rivalry, will woo us into their side,” said Harry Roque, a spokesman for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. “We will advance our national interest.”