It's official now: China is the European Union's largest trading partner. It has surpassed the United States. Beijing is happy. China understands Europe well and, consequently, has been busy cozying up to the Europeans collectively and to each nation-state individually.
The Europeans hope for "a fair and reciprocal relationship" with China. Good luck. The Middle Kingdom knows no reciprocity with the barbarians. It fights the barbarians with other barbarians. Hence, Beijing's moves in the EU are calculated to sic the Europeans on the Americans.
Unfortunately, Brussels — aka Berlin — believes that everything is under control. In fact, one can sense Germany, which wags the EU dog, has spotted an opportunity to assert its independence further vis-à-vis the U.S.
While a geopolitical nightmare for America, Berlin's strategic alliance with Moscow and Beijing is indispensable for the Federal Republic to shake off the legacy of defeat stemming from the Second World War. Germany is not quite ready to take a decisive step. However, it is increasingly frustrated with constraints that the United States imposes upon it.
Everyone would like to do business with China, whenever possible. Same goes for nearly everyone else in Europe, including the Intermarium, lands between the Baltic, Black, and Adriatic seas.
The Chinese have been making inroads there for a while now. They animate the so-called "17+1" group. It consists of most of the Intermarium countries, starting with Greece in the south, 5 western Balkan nations, and 11 Central and Eastern European members of the EU. The "17+1" is a perfect lobbying forum for the Chicoms.
Consequently, they have a trade hub in Slovakia and Hungary; they have pushed to control a Vietnamese trading center outside of Warsaw. They woo the central and eastern Europeans with infrastructure investments and a specter of the riches of the new "Silk Route."
It is not smooth sailing for Beijing, though. For example, Poland has consistently chosen to stick with the United States and ditch China's overtures. Estonia's intelligence annual report named the Chinese as a major security threat in cyber technologies. Lithuania has recently announced its intention to establish a trade mission in Taiwan.
Further, the Intermarium nations have denied Chinese companies the right to bid on government contracts by cancelling tenders or preventing them from investments and contracts there. In each case, the states involved invoked both national security concerns and lackluster performance of Chinese regime contractors.
Moreover, Lithuania and Rumania canceled China's eligibility for tenders in most public offerings, while Czechia, Croatia, and Slovenia excluded Beijing from transportation infrastructure and nuclear industry. Even Greece has entertained second thoughts about China's majority stake stranglehold on the nation's prime port of Piraeus.
All this upset not only the Chinese but also the Western Europeans in general, and the Germans in particular, who have made the engagement with both China and Russia a cornerstone of their new strategic pivot away from America.
The recent setbacks notwithstanding, a large part of China's success in the Intermarium stems from a misguided dream of the natives to use Beijing to balance Moscow. Some former post-Soviet satellites delude themselves that they can form a strategic partnership with China. It is like a fly, while riding on a tiger's nose, fantasizing that it leads the brute animal.
The Ukrainians learned the hard way when they falsely hoped that the Chinese presence on the Crimean Peninsula would offer protection from Russia. Once Moscow invaded and took over in 2014, Beijing proceeded to do business with the new masters as if nothing had happened.
In a word: whenever the Chinese are involved, European nations try various tackles. Understandably always with profit and national interest in mind, they endeavor to make a buck with China trade, while accommodating the United States, a feat not always possible.
"One belt, one road, one world" – a student of mine has cracked a joke, as in "One Reich, One Volk, One Fuehrer." Not so fast: the Chicoms have not gobbled up the Old Continent yet. They have been at it for a while, albeit with mixed results. The most worrisome is Germany's growing assertiveness away from Atlanticism, however.
Time for the U.S. to counteract China's moves. The least we can do is try to reward our friends in the Intermarium. As a buddy of mine has put it: "We should be pitching student visas and work visas to Poles, Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians instead of the Chinese. That way we could encourage our allies to master our technology – instead of letting our enemies steal it."
My response: "That would be too logical, Spock." But it would not hurt to try.
Marek Jan Chodakiewicz is Professor of History at the Institute of World Politics, a graduate school of statecraft in Washington D.C.; expert on East-Central Europe's Three Seas region; author, among others, of "Intermarium: The Land Between The Baltic and Black Seas." Read Marek Jan Chodakiewicz's Reports — More Here.
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