The Western world wakes up to Beijing’s bullying

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Why does Paris care? France was once an imperial power with colonies throughout the region but, like other former colonial rulers, it has been somewhat preoccupied with European affairs in recent decades. His attention was elsewhere. It changes.“We want to make sure that China’s rise to power takes place in a way that doesn’t destabilize the region,” Penot tells me. Or, as French President Emmanuel Macron said, standing on the deck of an Australian warship in Sydney Harbor two years ago: “We are not naive.”

Outgoing French Ambassador to Australia Christophe Penot. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

“If we want to be seen and respected as an equal partner by China, we need to organize,” Macron said. “This is why I think it is very important to build together, given this change, a common strategy. ”

This visit “put the Indo-Pacific firmly on the map” of France’s priorities, says Penot. “I can say with confidence that we have made tremendous progress” in strengthening relations with Australia. The country’s decision to commission the French naval group to build 12 submarines for $ 80 billion is a centerpiece of the new affinity.

“The rules-based order is very severely contested,” observes Penot. Paris wants to work with Australia, Japan, India, Indonesia and others in the ASEAN region to preserve it, he said.

France still has an important presence. It has seven of its overseas territories in the Indo-Pacific, including the archipelagos of New Caledonia and French Polynesia and Reunion Island. They are surrounded by waters which represent 80% of the exclusive economic zone of France in the world. The French navy organizes freedom of navigation exercises in the South China Sea every year. And France, like Australia, is also an Antarctic power, another priority interest for the global ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party.

Europe is in conflict. Seventeen European countries have joined the China Belt and Road Global Project, the most important of which is Italy. This speaks to a remarkable confidence in the authoritarian one-party state.

At the same time, official EU policy describes China as a “systemic rival” of Europe. EU countries have toughened their foreign investment rules against the CCP’s money, as they realized the extent of the subversive influence it exerts. “Foreign interference – later than in Australia – has become a major concern in the EU,” says Penot.

EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said this year that Europe had been “a little naïve” in its relations with China, but was becoming more realistic.

Penot plans to use his new job to bring the European Union as a whole to Macron’s way of thinking. “We are now going to talk to the others, to the EU, to make sure that the EU develops its own Indo-Pacific strategy. The EU could do a lot and it could provide a lot of resources for security, training and development aid. , climate change, trade and investment. ”

The world is waking up with the ambition and aggression of the Chinese Communist Party. The United States was the loudest and most obvious voice, but many countries began to respond to Beijing’s bullying. France is only one of the nations that have started to understand the problem and to organize themselves accordingly.

“If we want to be seen and respected as an equal partner by China, we need to organize. ”

French President Emmanuel Macron

For more than a decade, Beijing has complained bitterly whenever anyone brought up the prospect of the “Quad” group – a long-standing partnership between the United States, Japan, India and Australia. It was a plot to “contain China,” Beijing said, and India was very reluctant to participate.

But last week, the Quad held its second ministerial meeting. The Quad is slowly taking shape. Why has India put aside its reserves? In short, China.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wants to push the Quad much further: “Once we have institutionalized what we do – the four of us together – we can start to build a real security framework,” he said. before heading for the meeting with his counterparts. The aim was to “counter the challenge that the Chinese Communist Party presents to all of us.”

Beijing’s behavior alarmed some 20 countries who would have preferred to close their eyes and simply accept Chinese trade and investment. Chinese elites have noticed the backlash: “It would be better if China had been more low-key and more humble,” prominent commentator Shen Dingli of Fudan University in Shanghai said, New York Times.

Chinese President Xi Jinping reviews a naval parade.Credit:AP

Even one of China’s most nationalist strategic thinkers, Yan Xuetong, said it was counterproductive for Beijing to continue to wage ideological and political battles with other countries. The government “should be conscious of respecting the political systems of others and removing their arrogance to demean their political systems,” he said.

Global public opinion is moving against China. Independent polling group Pew Research released a 14-country survey of public attitudes towards China last week: “Adverse opinion has exploded over the past year,” Pew summed up .

“Today, a majority in each of the countries studied has an unfavorable opinion of China. And in Australia, UK, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden, US, South Korea, Spain and Canada, negative opinions hit their highest points since [Pew] The Center began to conduct surveys on this topic more than ten years ago. ”

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The rise in mistrust began with the cover-up of COVID-19 in China and the spread of the China-made virus. This continued as President Xi Jinping has stepped up Beijing’s intimidation and abuse of other countries since.

Across the 14 countries surveyed, a median of 78% expressed “no confidence” in Xi to “do the right thing in international affairs.” People surveyed trust Donald Trump even less. Individuals can try to move to other countries to avoid the risks, but we cannot move to other worlds. Nations must come together in new partnerships if they are to hope for stability in a disrupted, bubbling and storm-shaken world.

Peter Hartcher is an international writer.

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