By Dr Walter Ladwig C Ladwig III
King’s College London
I THINK there will be consequences for China in its dealings with the US and Europe resulting from the border clash with India.
For those in the west who already see China as working to undermine aspects of existing international rules, and wish to do things – like actively reconfigure supply chains or avoid Huawei – this will give them further ammunition. Conversely, those voices, particularly in Europe, still trying to argue it is possible to have a mutually beneficial engagement with China while setting aside issues of disagreements have a much more difficult case to make.
There are several different “flavours” to the calls for a reset in relations with China.
Within the European Union, I think we are finally seeing people waking up to the challenges that China might pose. So, last year, we saw the Europeans formally identified China as a “systemic rival” in terms of the political approach they encourage as well as an economic competitor.
EU actors are also concerned that the economic inroads that China has made with some of the less developed eastern European countries has prevented them from adopting a unified position or policy towards China. The perception that Beijing is attempting to undermine the EU or sow division is then a key source of mistrust.
From the perspective of the UK, there’s been a steady drumbeat of issues – whether it’s the crackdown on civil society that president Xi Jinping has orchestrated, the treatment of Uighurs in Xinjiang, or the Hong Kong protests.
The Covid-19 crisis and the clear attempts by the Chinese government to distract attention and put out confusing narratives was, in some respects, the straw that broke the camel’s back. It led the UK foreign secretary to warn that it won’t be “business as usual” afterwards.
I think sometimes politicians and poorly informed observers hear China, but when it comes to economics, their eyes just glaze over. They presume that it’s the most consequential actor out there. If you look at the UK, for example, it’s only the fifth largest trading partner and doesn’t even feature in the top 10 as a source of foreign direct investment.
Increasingly, people are pushing back against the idea that China is somehow the answer to trade and investment for Britain, versus its traditional economic partners like the US and Europe.
Dr Walter C Ladwig III, of the Department of War Studies, is a senior lecturer in international relations at King’s College London, and a senior fellow at the EastWest Institute.