Time for Europe and US to work together on China

Peter Beyer is a Christian Democratic Union (CDU) lawmaker in the Bundestag and the German government’s transatlantic coordinator.

BERLIN — A few decades down the road, when historians look back at our times, they may see these years as the start of a new Cold War.

China is pursuing a plan to become an economic, military and technological superpower — and in some spheres, it appears to already have an almost insurmountable lead, sparking an intense rivalry with the United States. This dispute is set to be the defining power struggle of the 21st century.

Given the stakes of this contest, many on both sides of the Atlantic are asking: Where does Europe stand?

It has become increasingly clear that remaining neutral is unrealistic, naive and dangerous. The time has come for Europe to take a firm stance.

That does not mean we Europeans should indiscriminately align ourselves with Washington’s policies. Instead, the European Union and the U.S. must form a strong team. By acting as “partners in leadership” — as was once proposed by U.S. President George H.W. Bush — we can build a New West. 

The storming of the U.S. Capitol by supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump seeking to overturn the election results was a clear warning that our democracies are vulnerable — and that we must step up our engagement to protect them. We must ensure the West becomes an attractive model again and be clear about what differentiates us from non-democratic countries and systemic rivals.

We must leverage one of the key advantages of democracies: that we can cooperate with each other on a basis of trust, while Beijing, for the most part, is on its own. A common strategy vis-à-vis China would focus on three main areas: the economy, security and technology policy. 

Such an endeavor also comes with an obligation: During U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s tenure, the U.S. and Europe must substantially strengthen their alliance.

We must conclude a comprehensive EU-U.S. trade package with which Washington can seek to restore lost confidence in Europe. The days of U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, as well as extra-territorial sanctions targeting close allies, must come to an end. Both partners must also swiftly reach agreement on a replacement for the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield on transatlantic data protection.

From the failure of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), we have learned that a free-trade deal between the EU and Washington must be built up step by step. This means we need to negotiate and put into effect specific chapters instead of waiting for conclusive negotiation of the full agreement. More transatlantic trade will also strengthen our economic resilience and supply chains against the influence of Beijing. 

We need to boost trade, and for this we need an ambitious transatlantic free-trade agreement. With the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership — a free-trade deal between Asia-Pacific nations — China has forged ahead in the Indo-Pacific, leaving the West to play catch-up.

Additionally, we must push China to finally adhere to international rules and standards through a reform of the World Trade Organization. Behavior that abuses the WTO system must trigger severe sanctions, even as we realize that — in the age of hyper-globalization — fully decoupling from China is unrealistic.

With respect to security, Germany, in close cooperation with NATO allies, must assume greater responsibility on security issues, above all on the periphery of our Continent, and in relations with Russia. A strong Western security architecture gives democracies more room to maneuver and greater independence. 

A German national security council in Berlin, similar to the one in Washington, should be set up to coordinate our foreign and security policy, thus making it more potent and efficient. Germany must meet NATO’s 2 percent spending target and also put German solidarity on display in the South China Sea, where the German Navy will for the first time send a vessel.

The New West should also set international standards and rules when it comes to new technology — before the Chinese beat us to it.

China missed the industrial revolution and lost stature as a result. This is at the root of its ambition to be at the forefront of this era’s technological revolution. What is clear is that whoever leads in artificial intelligence, bioengineering and other innovative spheres will become (and remain) an economic and military superpower.

Beijing monitors its citizens more ruthlessly and efficiently than the KGB ever could; it oppresses the Uighurs, and it is erasing democracy in Hong Kong. A world in which China were to set the rules and standards during the age of technology would be less free, less democratic and less worth living in.

That is why many in Germany are making a concerted effort to keep the Chinese tech giant Huawei from installing its hardware in our 5G network. And it’s why the New West should work closely together on issues of digital technology and science, specifically in the health care sector and the defense industry. The way German firm BioNTech and the U.S.’s Pfizer cooperated in their development of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is a good example of what Europeans and Americans can accomplish together. 

There is no time to lose: China must be made to play by the international rulebook, and we can only make this happen if we act in concert. Any deadlock or disputes in the West will only give China a leg up.



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