What happens to Europe when the ball goes up? – POLITICS
BERLIN — The Chinese spy balloon saga has plunged relations between Washington and Beijing into a new crisis. For European governments, this means all sorts of problems.
With relations between the two superpowers deteriorating, EU leaders are expected to come under increasing pressure from the White House to choose sides and join forces against China, just as they hoped for a thaw in delicate relations with Beijing.
And then there is the war.
Russia is plotting a major offensive in Ukraine over the next few weeks, but European diplomats fear the balloon incident could distract President Joe Biden’s team just when US support for Kyiv will be most needed.
“We didn’t expect 2023 to be easy, but it’s a really tough start,” an EU diplomat said.
On Saturday, the United States shot down what it identified as a Chinese surveillance balloon off the coast of South Carolina with an air-to-air missile from an F-22 stealth fighter jet.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken has indefinitely postponed a visit to Beijing that was scheduled for this week, the first such trip planned for a cabinet-level U.S. official under President Biden.
Footage of the incident circulated in dramatic video footage on social media, taken mostly by cheering onlookers cheering on the theatrical spectacle of military might.
Beijing insists the giant solar-panel-powered object was a “civilian airship” that derailed while conducting “primarily meteorological” research. In response to the missile strike, the Chinese government expressed “strong displeasure” and protested the use of force by the United States to attack the unmanned civilian craft. He added that he “reserved the right to take other necessary responses”.
US foreign policy, while still heavily invested in military support for Ukraine, could be distracted by escalating clashes with Beijing. Right-wing American politicians have been calling for more attention on China since Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago.
As the “US-China rivalry intensifies, there will be more pressure on the Europeans, whose approach to China is very diverse, to choose sides,” said Ricardo Borges de Castro, Head of the Global Europe Program at the European Policy Centre, a Brussels-based think tank. “The reality is that if the world becomes increasingly dominated by two poles – the United States and China – the EU and the Europeans will have to choose sides as long as the security and defense of Europe depends on the American umbrella.”
Russia, meanwhile, is expected to launch massive offensives in just weeks, when the harshest winter season draws to a close, Ukrainian officials say.
“Washington will be busy with Beijing for a while now,” a senior EU diplomat said Sunday. “This is not good news for the EU as Russia remains the main concern.”
For Europe, the incident also comes at an inopportune time as senior officials prepare to reconnect with Beijing.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell is reportedly planning to visit Beijing in April, when he is also expected to visit Japan for a G7 ministerial meeting. Separately, French President Emmanuel Macron also announced his intention to meet President Xi Jinping in the Chinese capital early this year; he would be interested in taking a senior official from the European Commission to join him, according to an official familiar with the plans.
The latest US-China outbreak “means that we will now have to watch how China reacts, and if these [planned] the trips will be treated as a propaganda success by Beijing in severing transatlantic ties,” a diplomat said on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to speak on the matter.
“Following the war in Ukraine, the coordination of Chinese policy between the two sides of the [the Atlantic is] stalling,” said Reinhard Bütikofer, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation on relations with China. “While Washington DC is increasing the pressure against Beijing, particularly on the technological front and in the Taiwanese context, Brussels, Berlin and Paris are showing new hesitations.”
Beijing’s apparent lack of interest in helping the West pressure Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine further complicates matters.
Worse still, according to a Wall Street Journal report, China has become Russia’s main supplier of dual-use goods, supplying the technology the Moscow military needs to continue its invasion. According to the article, Chinese state-owned defense companies have shipped navigational equipment, jamming technology and fighter jet parts to sanctioned Russian government-owned defense companies.
European leaders have repeatedly warned Beijing not to help Moscow militarily.
China’s top foreign policy official Wang Yi has dropped plans to travel to Brussels even though he will visit Germany for the Munich Security Conference in February, two diplomats told POLITICO.
Europe’s reaction to the ball incident was muted. The EU simply noted the right of the United States to defend its airspace. “The security and protection of airspace is a matter of national security and therefore a competence, responsibility and prerogative” of the state or states concerned, an EU spokesperson said on Sunday.
Few European countries backed the Biden administration’s move in public, underscoring a general sense of reluctance to aggravate Beijing. One of the exceptions was Estonia, where Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, retweeting a BBC report on the balloon landing, said: “I support the US operation to defend its sovereignty. I totally condemn provocations that jeopardize the national security of the United States.
The other American allies did not hold back. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailed the operation, Tweeter “Canada strongly supports this action — we will continue to work together…on our security and defence.
South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, during a visit to Washington, said: “I understand enough the decision to postpone Secretary [Blinken]visit to China and I think China should give a quick and very sincere explanation of what happened.
Tom Tugendhat, Britain’s security minister and a longtime skeptic of Beijing, called for concern about other forms of Chinese threats. “Worried about being spied on from above?” Look at what certain apps collect on your phone and consider your cybersecurity. Some risks are much closer to home,” he said. tweeted.
EU foreign policy in 2023 can be defined by whichever expires first: European indecision on China or America’s appetite for European defence.