If NATO annoys China, China will annoy NATO. That was the implication of Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe’s visit to Belgrade last week.
“Some NATO members are trying to play certain security roles in the Indo-Pacific region. China can respond by interfering in Europe’s security affairs and urging the Alliance to see China as a global security player, “Cui Hongjiang, an influential foreign policy expert, told the nationalist Global Times.
It is one thing to threaten, quite another to carry out threats. The Chinese government may demand loyalty. However, it is not enough to suppress criticism; in order to pacify the party state, it is necessary to actively support its repressive, aggressive policy. As a punishment, it can impose visa sanctions. An even more alarming option is to put pressure on foreign diplomats, journalists and businessmen living in China. This is reminded by the fate of “two Michaels” (Kovrig and Spavor) – Canadians who have been held in appalling conditions for two years on dubious, politically motivated charges. Europeans may become the next hostages.
However, it is much more difficult to use power on the other side of the world. Serbia seems to be China’s closest friend in Europe. However, if you look closely – this is a shaky relationship.
Wei Fenghe’s visit resulted in an agreement to establish a center of Chinese traditional medicine at the Serbian Military Medical Academy – perhaps a symbolic victory, but by no means a geopolitical breakthrough. Other deals include training special police forces and helping with Serbia’s drone development program. News of China’s investment in Serbia (mostly in heavy industry) is constantly in the headlines. However, Serbia’s ties with Germany are much stronger. The same is true in Hungary, Northern Macedonia and Greece, where Weia Fenhe is also scheduled to visit further along the route.
NO ONE FORCED THE BIG COUNTRIES OF THE “OLD WEST”, SUCH AS GREAT BRITAIN AND GERMANY, TO OPEN UP TO CHINESE MONEY OR MAKE SIGNIFICANT INVESTMENTS THERE. THE COMPANIES THEMSELVES DECIDED TO DO SO, AND POLITICIANS ENCOURAGED THEM. THE PRICE FOR THESE MISTAKES IS HUGE – AND THOSE WHO MADE MISTAKES PAID IT ONLY IN PART
Beijing has loved building relationships with people and institutions for many years. At some point, this tactic may pay off. For example, in the Serbian media, the Chinese have won a friendly attitude. However, given how much time and money has been spent over the last decade, the overall outlook seems bleak. Perhaps the most troubling aspect of China’s presence in Southeast Europe is the cyber front: raising the personal information of locals and foreigners to fill giant data warehouses in China. However, enthusiasm for Chinese technology may wane amid growing awareness of its use.
China can play some more cards. He can at least demonstratively send PLA units to Russia’s West 2021 multinational military exercise later this year. Russia’s military superiority in the Baltic Sea region is already annoying NATO. Chinese equipment (air and sea drones, for example) can worsen the situation.
But for the most part, Beijing succeeds where the West fails. The most recent example is vaccination diplomacy. The greed and disorganization of the West has frightened and angered people who are now ready to receive vaccinations from Russia and China. The biggest miscalculation occurred recently when the European Union closed its doors to new members: the Western Balkans (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro and Northern Macedonia), the Eastern Partnership countries, primarily Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, and Turkey. The price for this indecisive, short-sighted and selfish approach is high – the demoralization of pro-Western forces in these countries, the weakening of Western influence, cynicism among the public and favorable conditions for those who want to do tricks. We cannot blame China for this, because we did it ourselves.
Similarly, no one has forced the big countries of the “old West”, such as Britain and Germany, to open up to Chinese money or make significant investments there. The companies themselves decided to do so, and politicians encouraged them because they were greedy and frivolous.
The price for these mistakes is huge – and those who made mistakes paid it only in part.