The European Union excelled in double-think this week when it censured China for “endangering peace” in the South China Sea while at the same time European states are sending an unprecedented number of warships to the Indo-Pacific region.
Germany is soon deploying a frigate to the South China Sea for the first time since 2002.
France has just returned a nuclear-powered attack submarine after a 100-day patrol of the Asian region.
The Netherlands is to join a British flotilla in what could be the most provocative naval maneuver yet.
Next month, Britain is dispatching its largest naval fleet since the 1982 Falklands War, headed by its new flagship aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth. The carrier strike group will include two guided-missile destroyers, two anti-submarine frigates, and a nuclear attack submarine. Onboard the aircraft carrier are F-35 fighter jets. Warships from the United States and the Netherlands are also participating in the British expedition.
Of course, all nations have the right to freedom of navigation in all international waters. Separately, the deployment by European nations of their naval vessels to distant seas is not in itself objectionable. Russia and China also participate in long-haul exercises to test the sea-worthiness of crew, weaponry, and equipment.
But when viewed in the round, the European dispatch of warships to the South China Sea cannot be seen as innocent passage. It is more an aggressive flexing of muscles. The British flotilla for example is planning to send its two destroyers into the Black Sea while en route to the Indo-Pacific region. That move comes at a time of heightened tensions between NATO and Russia over the Ukraine conflict. It is not clear if the British will go ahead with the Black Sea maneuver, but the fact of its planning at least shows that there is a latent offensive calculation.
The European naval foray to the South China Sea is a collective affirmative response to the ramping up of hostile policy in Washington towards China under the new Biden administration. Much more than his Republican predecessor, the Democrat president has embarked on a strategic effort to “coordinate allies” in an adversarial stance towards China (and Russia). And Biden is increasing the number of U.S. warships entering waters around China.
It appears that the Europeans are falling into line with Biden’s demand for coordinated action and rhetoric which includes imposing sanctions over alleged human rights violations, as well as deploying military forces. The folly and servility of the Europeans is staggering.
The European Union relies on China as its biggest trade and investment partner. Britain is no longer part of the EU, but post-Brexit London is especially in need of improving relations with China for its economic benefit. Instead, however, we see the Europeans doing Uncle Sam’s bidding with regard to antagonizing Beijing.
In a comment for this week’s editorial, Mick Wallace, an independent Irish Member of the European Parliament, made the following remark on the U.S.-led belligerence:
“It’s pathetic that the EU is allowing itself to be dragged into a shambolic scenario that doesn’t serve its interests. But never underestimate the EU tendency to say one thing and do another. Even if the likes of Germany engage in token gestures of military support for the U.S., they will not jeopardize the vital arrangements with its number-one trading partner – China.”
So, there is a fair chance that this all a bit of theatrical saber-rattling. The Europeans are deriving some sort of phallic satisfaction from showing off their big gunboats, and so on. They may also be indulging Washington and trying to keep the Americans sweet for other favors.
Nevertheless, the recklessness and wanton provocation are contemptible. It is also irrational double-think, as Mick Wallace notes.
The Europeans say they don’t want conflict with anyone. Yet they are sailing heavy weaponry halfway around the world near to China’s shores in a de facto formation under the apparent direction of Washington. This is while they are appealing to China for lucrative trade opportunities. The Europeans can’t have it both ways. This is the 21st century, not the era of the 19th century Opium Wars when China was coerced by gunboat diplomacy. (The same applies to Europe’s snide attitude towards Russia regarding the Nord Stream-2 gas project.)
China today is a formidable military power and a pre-eminent economic superpower. European arrogance and double-think is risking the incitement of an all-out war.
It should also be borne in mind that the Americans suffer from the same double-think and blind arrogance. This week in a major speech before a joint session of Congress marking his first 100 days in office, President Joe Biden said that the United States was not seeking conflict or escalation with either China or Russia. This is while Biden bad-mouths both leaders of China and Russia. And while the U.S. is deploying ever-more offensive military forces, along with NATO allies, near the borders of China and Russia. Biden’s avowed non-aggression sounds hollow and hypocritical, if not downright disingenuous.
To be sure, China has various long-running territorial disputes with several neighboring nations in the South China Sea. But as Beijing consistently points out, these disputes can be resolved through inter-Asian negotiations. The poking into the region by Washington and its European allies is not aimed at mediating settlements; it is all about flexing muscles, which can only exacerbate tensions. Under what authority do the Americans or Europeans have to meddle? The colonial era is long gone.
The absurdity of their argument is always highlighted by running the scenario in reverse. Let’s say the US and Mexico have a border spat. How would Washington react if China and Russia were to send warships to purportedly mediate? Or, say, Britain and France are having a row over fishing rights in the North Sea, and again Beijing and Moscow deploy nuclear attack submarines to ensure “freedom of navigation”.
The double-think and double-standard are patently absurd. But dangerously absurd.