EVENT TRANSCRIPT: “The Atlantic Alliance During a New Age of Great Power Competition”
DATE: 20 April 2020, 6:00pm – 7:00pm
SPEAKERS: Theresa Fallon, Dr John Hemmings, and Jakub Janda
EVENT MODERATOR: James Rogers
James Rogers 01:49
Welcome to this second event of the Henry Jackson Society being a virtual event as a consequence of the lockdown, but let me assure you that this is a very well attended event nonetheless, with people signing in from all over the world. I’m James Rogers, the director of the Global Britain Program at the Henry Jackson Society. And it is my pleasure to invite you over, to welcome you to this event on the Atlantic Alliance in a new age of Great Power Competition. I’m delighted to be joined here today by an intercontinental panel. Let me just introduce each of the panellists. Our first speaker will be John Hemmings, who is an associate professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies in Hawaii, on the other side of the world. I believe John is at 7 am there, so John is with us bright and early. Previously, John was the founding director of the Asia Study Center at the Henry Jackson Society, of which he is still an Associate Fellow. The next panellist will be Theresa Fallon, who is the founder and director of the Center for Russia, Europe, Asia Studies in Brussels. She is concurrently a member of the Council for security cooperation in the Asia Pacific, a non-resident senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and an adjunct professor at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies. And our final speaker will be Jakub Janda. He is the executive director of European Values’ The Center for Security Policy based in Prague in the Czech Republic. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Slovak Security Policy Institute and a regular contributor for the Atlantic Council. I just like to point out that each of the speakers will be speaking primarily in or exclusively in a personal capacity. So, what are we going to discuss today? Well, you might have noticed that China and Russia both use the Coronavirus crisis to indulge in forms of narrative projection. Great Power Competition is, therefore, alive and well, even during an international emergency. This has been played out in Europe, with Russia and China clamouring to show their willingness to provide assistance, which often comes with strings attached. So, a panel today is going to look at what this new era of Great Power Competition, or wider state competition in British Government parlance, means. So, the Atlantic alliance, in a broader sense, for this competition will outlive Coronavirus just as it was there before the disease emerged in China. For example, will European and American interests continue to intersect? Will they weaken and fragment under the weight of hostile outside forces? So, let’s see what our panel thinks. John is going to start and set the scene by outlining what China is doing and how the US is responding. But just before I hand it over, I’d like to remind you that you will have the opportunity to ask questions throughout this discussion. To do that, to ask your questions, please do use a feature that is at the bottom of your browser’s window. You can type your question there throughout this discussion, which will let us know you’d like to ask one. If your question is selected, we will then invite you at the end of this discussion to ask your question. Thank you for listening to me. Well, it’s now over to John.
John Hemmings 04:56
Thank you very much, James, and thank you to everyone for attending today and joining this great conversation, I just want to say quickly that I am speaking only in a personal capacity. The Daniel K. Inouye, Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies is a US government organization, but I’m speaking only on my own behalf. So right, where are we now that COVID is changing the world? I think everyone is beginning to have events like this. And certainly, it’s a common theme. I think, for a lot of international relations observers, we see that, obviously, the US-China strategic communications dialogue has been really wrapped up. We’ve seen that kind of war of words between them on Twitter, on social media. The blame game is a narrative that’s being bandied about. And essentially, what we’re looking at is a kind of pre-COVID world. Where were we before the current COVID-worlds? What’s happening now, that’s of structural importance for the system and the post-COVID-world. So, in the pre-COVID world, in terms of the rising power of China, what were we looking at? Well, we were looking at an increasingly authoritarian China under Xi Jinping, you know, with a governance style that was increasingly looking like what we historically saw as authoritarian dictatorships, you know, one-man-rule through a party with very little internal discussion. And that was all very incrementally done, but it was done. We also saw a governance style that’s starting to be exported out through technology, which was very new, actually, but we’ve seen traces of that in the 1930s in terms of propaganda and state tools of suppression, police states But what we were seeing before COVID was, especially in the digital Silk Road, and other mega infrastructural projects by China, we started seeing these huge ICTs, you know, information communications technologies that were being rolled out across large parts of the Eurasian landmass. Using 5G as the backbone technology, we started to see, you know, a whole raft of different technologies that could actually enable certain types of governance, certain types of police state, civilian behaviour, and relationships, smart cities, where you have a centralized hub of essentially data being gathered from sensors, smart sensors all around the city, not only for efficiencies in terms of energy and traffic and resource usage, of course, but also in terms of civilian behaviour, smart cards that track not only your health and banking and voting behaviour, but also limit your access to state goods. So, all of these mechanisms were being rolled out. And so that was having a kind of a normative and a governance impact. And I think the scale of it was pretty considerable. If we look at the Belt and Road Initiative’s impact. We also saw it happen inside of China itself, to a much more extreme degree. Xinjiang was the farthest end of that. But even in normal Mainland China, you saw, you know, apps like the Xi Jinping ideology app, which actually gives administrative control to the state when you download the app over your phone, contacts details. And I think that app, right, there is a kind of metaphor for the approach of the Chinese state towards populations, which is that they would prefer to have total control over what we think, do and say, starting with the Chinese people, but then radiate outwards. What else did we see before COVID? We saw the suppression of Hong Kong this year; we saw the continuation of the Xinjiang issue. We saw maybe a diminution of the South China Sea issue. But we started to see, you know, kind of growing confidence in the way that China was able to handle the issue internationally. So, as we go through COVID, what we’ve seen is probably, you know, rather than China stepping back from those things, we’ve seen the kind of opportunism and perhaps a sign that the PRC views this moment as a window of opportunity. On April 6, Bloomberg ran a story, which I think deserves far more attention than it’s probably getting, which is that banks that deal with mergers and acquisitions across the West were being approached by Chinese state-owned enterprises to look at purchasing either infrastructure or European companies at reduced rates, right, they’ve you know, they’ve lost huge amounts of value over the crisis. You’ve seen, NATO warn about infrastructure deals taking place under this current regime where companies are desperate for cash and you also have seen over this weekend, the kind of midnight arrests, not sure they were literally at midnight, but the mass arrests of about 15 very senior Hong Kong, leaders of the democracy movement, and then last week or two weeks ago, I should say, you had in the ICU, United Nations agency that deals with the internet and internet protocols and norms and standards, particularly technical standards, and how those are applied, we saw that story in the Financial Times reveal that a quality Working Group inside the ICU is looking at changing internet protocols so that the standards will favour state regulators, which of course, you know, if the PRC has anything to do with it, and if it looks like the trends of that we’ve seen, in terms of the way they treat data inside the Great Firewall of China, then we’re looking at an expansion of those norms and standards. There’s a huge question, of course, whether technical standards have values and governance and time. But I would argue that they do; we’re seeing that they do already. So, what else has China done that’s been particularly egregious? Well, I won’t go on about how they treated the crisis itself with the mask diplomacy, the lies, the suppression of their own medical, the genome details, the research, the insistence that all research on the origins of the COVID must be cleared. In other words, they want to control the story. All of that’s been, I think, extensively covered. But what we have seen, that is probably something perhaps Jakub will deal with, is their foray into a more penetrative and insidious form of influence operations. Pre-COVID, we already had the, you know, the influence operations inside Australia, New Zealand, US; we see it not only through Chinese state organs that are called media like CGTN, and so on, but other softer forums through Chinese friendship associations that have a united front work, background and mission. But through COVID, we’ve seen kind of Russian style bots being used on Facebook, fake conspiracy theories being thrown up by foreign ministry spokespeople, blaming both Italy and the United States military for the COVID virus. So, we’re seeing that, you know, they’re beginning to pull from the Russian toolkit, types of approaches that they think will put the West on the back foot. And the West is still on the backfoot; unfortunately, we’re still not looking closely at investment into critical infrastructures. That Bloomberg story disappeared. I mean, it was April 6 when it came out. I haven’t really seen anyone pick up on it. And, to some extent, it points to a number of different futures that we face as the West and allied partners to the West; what kind of responses should we have? And so, this is where, you know, trying to be constructive and think, forward-looking. We don’t want just to sit and complain about China. That’s not the point. So, these types of conversations and debates are to think productively about what are the types of policy options that lay in front of us? And what are the policy choices? And what are their implications on our society and on our politicians? And so, it strikes me, of course, in the immediate future that we face, you know, economic recession, probably of gravity that we haven’t faced for many, many decades, unemployment and large companies, airlines, and so on, and your traditional consumer industries will be suffering. Others will be doing well, such as, you know, the online markets and tech companies. So, there seems to be in my mind; if we’re going to the link of the transatlantic alliance, there seems to be space for a number of different things that can happen. And I’m borrowing a little bit from James J. Carafano and Ian Brzezinski, his great article recently on pushing towards closer Europe-US, Canadian-Europe trade resurgence, you know, opening the airline routes between the two, taking great care, of course, to have medical facilities and screens in those airports but making sure that businesses start to get going again. There’s also the idea of getting a 5G consortium going some sort of group that was being bandied about already in Washington and in London before the COVID crisis but certainly given the way we’ve seen technology being weaponized increasingly by the PRC, even during this crisis, and the political nature of Huawei’s gift-giving, I do think that there should be a push to go towards that direction. There are some claims in the UK that they may revisit the Huawei decision. I would hope that they would, but we’ll see, you know when the metal hits the road where that goes, but there needs to be more of a push by the West in ICT technologies because we know that these are going to be the backbone of our societies, they’re going to underpin our personal consumer habits or personal social habits, they will underpin two or three future technologies that are essentially going to be enhanced as a state power. The fourth industrial revolution being the first one, the Internet of things being second, and then the third being, essentially the kind of the digitization of trade in a way that we haven’t seen up until now. And if we are on the backfoot of that, we are going to be essentially in a submissive position to an authoritarian power that leads on those standards and technologies and a state that, as we’ve seen over the last few years, is not shy about pushing its norms and standards and values coercively through those technologies. So, we also kind of start to draw to a close here in terms of ICT co-development, co-investment; we do also need to be a little bit defensive even though I’ve tried to make this a positive number of policy ideas. We cannot simply ignore a PRC-led investment thrust into European and American infrastructure and tech companies at a time when our companies are in serious trouble. And so, we do need to continue still to tighten investment screening of dual-use technologies, particularly those in AI or in ICT, internet technologies, those ones that have that dual-use capability, quantum, for example. We also need to start thinking about collective diplomacy in a way that we haven’t done for many generations. I think one of the tricks that the PRC has been very good at is incrementally whittling down the resistance at any bilateral state that it’s dealing with. And we’ve not really come up with a solution to that. The only time I’ve seen collective diplomacy used against the PRC effectively was when India and the PRC were essentially in a diplomatic tussle over the northern territories, and Japan spoke, you know, openly and publicly in defence of the Indian position and the PRC, to some extent, reacted to that. So, I do think there needs to be a positive push towards economic co-development by the transatlantic alliance, a defence of norms, values and our economic trade interests and infrastructures, and ICT co-development. And with that, I’ll turn the floor over. Thank you.
James Rogers 18:33
Okay, thank you very much for that, John, for that great overview. Now we’re going to hand it over to Theresa, and she is going to discuss the European stance and approach to China’s revisionism, particularly in relation to NATO and then the European Union. Thank you, Theresa.
Theresa Fallon 18:48
Well, thank you for the invitation. I’m delighted to be here. To start with, the EU’s handling of the situation with COVID-19 has really given China a great opportunity. So initially, for example, the first country Italy had the COVID-19 pandemic, and so, when they asked the EU for help, there was a lack of cooperation. So, both Germany and France had decided not to export any of their PPE. This created a crisis within the EU for Eurosceptics. And China was there, so they pivoted from the beginning of the pandemic to actually a saviour. And I just saw some recent figures in Italy. So, we think that this propaganda doesn’t really work, this kind of mask diplomacy. But, Italians were asked by an Italian television show, and they ranked China 34% in terms of someone that you can count on, 30% for the US. So China has really kind of won the hearts and minds of Italians. I know a lot of people in Italy are sceptical about this. But, the figures are that they have a friend in need as a friend indeed. So, the initial response by the EU was rather slow, but later it did catch on. And both Germany and France have exported more usable masks to Italy than China did. The People’s Republic of China had actually completed aid with purchases. And this was kind of part of this mask diplomacy or information campaign. And we’ve seen them actually even send special goods just to the Chinese diaspora there in Italy through various Chinese groups. So that’s just setting the tone. So, I would say since 2016, EU-China relations have been on a downward trajectory. And last year, in 2018, they labelled them a systemic rival. So, the relations have been a bit rocky. And that will bring me to my first point then. So, this issue of trust, you know, China’s narrative is that they help the EU and that they like to see the EU as one big trading bloc, but the reality, the COVID-19 pandemic, has shown us that, when push comes to shove, they were dealing bilaterally. So, they called Berlin two times before they ever called Brussels. And I think this makes Brussels a bit neuralgic, and High Representative Borrell made a statement; he called it a battle of narratives. So that’s how China was kind of showing that the EU was unable to perform, whereas China was there to save the rest of Europe. And this also feeds into the Belt and Road initiative narrative because Italy was the first G7 country to actually sign-on. And so, Luigi Di Maio, with The Five Star Movement, who actually signed on to the Belt and Road Initiative, wanted to show it to the Italian population that he made the right choice that he’s literally getting good health from China. So that has been the state of affairs. But we’re seeing a great deal of improvement. Germany has actually airlifted patients from Bergamo and Italy, and they’ve been taking care of them since they have excess capacity. They have lots of hospital rooms, so they’re taking in patients from both France and Italy. So, this is one way to improve relations. But in one sense, the narrative was already set early on; that’s when they asked for help, Europe wasn’t there. So, this is kind of a problem. When we’ve seen over the years a lot of talk about strategic autonomy. And if you’re in crisis, and you ask the EU for help, and they were unable to deliver, I think this makes it more difficult for them to have independent or self-autonomous security. So, I think that this has actually helped the narrative of NATO, that NATO is there that, you know, there’s not all this jockeying for position within the EU member states. And as Chancellor Angela Merkel has stated, NATO should remain the provider of security. So, I think that with the economic decline in Europe, these ideas of a separate European military, I think that that’s going to be gone with the wind right now. And that there has been a great deal of talk about creating a stronger European pillar within NATO. So, I’ll come back to that in just a moment. And the other issue that we’ve seen in China is this kind of blowback about the racist attacks on Africans in Guangzhou. And so, there is a possibility, a strategic possibility. Now, Europe is kind of putting all of their emphasis on China as a market, but we see that there’s a lot more promise than reality. And in the meantime, China has made big headway in Africa. So, this could be a great opportunity for both the US and Europe to make some inroads into Africa because there is going to be some blowback on China in Africa. So, I would suggest that would be a second point that they should work on together. And thirdly, we’ve seen disinformation; the Chinese have what we call Wolf Warrior diplomacy, based on a film. There’s Wolf Warrior 1 and Wolf Warrior 2 from 2015 and 2017. So, it’s kind of the strong Chinese that don’t take garbage from anybody. And so, we’ve seen this really pronounced and almost belligerent ambassadorial behaviour. And you’re just a bit shocked by this and taken back; we’ve seen that regularly even before COVID-19 in Sweden against the Swedish government. So, each ambassador is trying to get Xi Jinping’s eye by being, you know, very forceful and like a Wolf Warrior. So, they’re being very, very pushy. And so, this has the unintended consequences of actually alienating Europeans and Charles Parton there at RUSI, had a wonderful phrase that Chinese diplomats are really the national treasure of the UK because they remind everybody of what the Chinese diplomats really are like. So, we’ve had this period of transatlantic drift, that I think COVID-19 could be at a period of – so, my third point now on trade, and James Carafano wrote a great piece about this transatlantic drift, he had five points it’s brilliant. And I would like to emphasize because Europeans tend always to think, oh, China, China, China, but the number one trade partner of the EU is the US. And during this period of, you know, economic decline, contraction, you know, we really need each other. And I suggest that they do not try to make really big deals, but small deals to get things moving to stoke the engine of the economies to keep things moving along on track. And this would also include, as James Carafano had remarked in his paper, a US-UK free trade agreement to speed that up. And that will also help get the UK back on track. So, I think that these trade issues are very, very key. And this question of reshoring. In the US, there is a really strong movement for reshoring. I don’t think it will be able to do it across the board. It’s very difficult to do. And, of course, China has a counter-strategy. But I think that strategic issues like even PPE, personal protection equipment should be closer to home, at least within NAFTA countries for the US. Europe is actually a big producer of PPE, and since they do have an embargo on them right now, so the US can’t get it from Europe. So, I think that this could improve relations if Europe is able to sell this to the US as well. All right. And so, going back to NATO, I wanted to you know, we’ve seen under this administration some difficulties with NATO. But I think that there is an emerging narrative about what I mentioned earlier about the European pillar within NATO. And there’s a reflection period right now, and that they could use this to figure out how to weigh the contributions a little more evenly and fairly. And that this is really the way to go, this idea of strategic autonomy; I think there’s a trust factor that COVID-19 has really shown and demonstrated to member states that maybe we really can’t rely on them. But NATO has really weathered the storm very well. And I think that we also need to expand the definition of what security is, and NATO has been doing that over time with cybersecurity. But we also realize now that health security is something that we really have to expand on. Because the WHO, I think, most world leaders would say has failed. And so, the idea of G20, or even, you know, the transatlantic relationship, trying to monitor these health issues more closely, and maybe integrate it with the WHO, making the WHO more accountable, giving it more teeth, would be a good way to go, because we’ve learned really the hard way, and we’re going to see a huge decline in the economy. So, health security is a key issue. And also, the way of monitoring it because we’ve seen attempts by China to, you know, use Italian hospitals to send the data back to China, anything to get, you know, the Huawei clause in. But I think that we really need to respect people’s privacy. And so, I would rather see this type of monitoring done in Western alliance rather than have China set the standards as John mentioned earlier. And that brings us to the Sale of the Century, right. So, we saw back in 2008, after the crisis, China just went to Europe, it had zero ports. Now it’s got 10 to 15% control of European ports. It has a lot of the strategic infrastructure, which Jens Stoltenberg last week talked about, and so yes, the EU has a strict FDI screening mechanism. But almost half the EU member states still don’t even have a national screening mechanism. And it’s yes, I know, EU things the wheels move very slowly, and they said they got this through within about a year and isn’t that great? But it doesn’t really have any teeth. And I’ve spoken to some EU officials privately, and they told me that it’s almost too late because the Chinese can actually disguise investments now they have other investments already in Europe, so they can invest through proxies. So, this FDI thing, although it’s gotten a lot of media attention, it’s a bit dubious how much it can actually really prevent takeovers by China. So, Germany has come up with the funds actually to protect strategic investments. And I think that that’s a great way forward. And I think that we should all be looking at that. So then to conclude, we’ve seen, when I mentioned global governance issues with WHO, China is trying to the first in unsaved, in 2017, their Global Health Silk Road, and now we’re seeing them – the first organ international organization that signed on to this was, guess what? The WHO, so Chinese one, you just published a statement last week, and most people see that it’s kind of a warm-up for the National People’s Congress, and what one of the key points was the Health Silk Road, so I think if the West is not improved, global governance issues, China is going to step in and fill that vacuum. So, they it’s kind of a long-term plan, and we’ve seen even with the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, the AIB, guess what, you know, they’re actually investing, you know, all the Europeans who joined this bank. The bank now has voted to work on Chinese investments to improve the infrastructure there. So, I would say that the one of the key issues right now for transatlantic cooperation is Huawei. I thought, after this, we’ve seen masks be weaponized, medicines be weaponized, you would think people would think twice about, you know, still embracing Huawei. But I saw today a statement from Vodafone Executive Writer that said that we should all embrace Huawei. So, there’s still a vested interest that even they’re not learning the lessons from COVID-19. And they think that there should be either Europe has a homegrown champion with Ericsson or Nokia or even better yet, a transatlantic consortium to come up with the best of 5G. And I think this would be a great project for transatlantic cooperation. So, thank you.
James Rogers 31:10
Thank you very much, Teresa, for that excellent overview. I just want to remind everyone that the opportunity to ask questions is there. So please do hit that question and answers button and ask us your question. And then, we’ll be able to select you towards the end of the session. So, we’re now going to hand it over to Jakub, who is going to explain Central and Eastern European perceptions of China’s rise. And also, think a little bit about how countries in the region will respond to some of China’s behaviour in relation to both COVID-19 and also in relation to the region, Eastern and Central Europe more generally. Over to Jakub.
Jakub Janda 31:47
Thank you, James, and thanks to the Henry Jackson Society for having me in here. So, I’ll just start briefly with Russia and then do China all the way. Generally speaking for what we see Russia doing in South-Eastern Europe, or in Europe, in general, is basically using their usual disinformation tactics, which is blaming the United States for this, and actually creating the usual spread of misinformation and manipulations related to it. So, there isn’t anything particularly new in the Russian actions in the disinformation area; there is only one specific action taken by Russia, which is the intelligence-gathering mission in Italy, as we have seen there are Russian troops on the ground in Italy being invited as supposedly helping Italy. But as we have seen from even media reports, there’s a lot of Russian intelligence gathering, all NATO solar right now inside Italy. And as Theresa mentioned, there is quite a lot of public pressure and a lot of warm hearts among Italians for Russians as well. So, there is quite a lot of big gains for Russian strategic influence in Italy, which already has been there, but currently, it got even worse, but that’s more aid for Russia from what we have seen. I mean, it is massive disinformation, but nothing really new outside of what we have seen. But if you look through what China is doing, I think we could clearly say that now, what this pandemic moment means for China is very similar to what happened for Russia in summer of 2014, when they shot down the airliner and made some money over Ukraine. So, after this happened, Russia tried actually to deflect the blame, relativize, or put its responsibility in question by creating dozens of narratives, where all of them were disinformation in order to shift the blame from Russia to anybody else. And this is exactly what China does now in Europe. A very similar amount of conflicting narratives, something we haven’t really seen done by the Chinese government and Chinese proxies, at least in Europe until now. So, this is the new moment for China, I would say. The second thing which we see China doing from the Russian toolkit is when we see very aggressive ambassadors, Wolf Warrior diplomacy or as they call it, or a some of us call it even happening in Europe. We have seen Chinese ambassadors behaving as if they were running an occupying force in individual countries. And this is exactly what the Chinese Ambassador is in some places like Prague; now, even in France, in Paris, there are actually doing so. In Prague, we have a joke that if you see a Russian ambassador, usually it’s like if you have a drunk Russian soldier, he acts like an ambassador, but he’s actually just shouting at people and demanding something. And that’s exactly what we have seen the Chinese ambassadors across Europe in some countries doing right now. The third thing which the Chinese are doing and basically doing in a very similar manner as the Russians have in Europe is actually making very specific demands. And I would call it political blackmail to individual countries in Europe, something that the Chinese diplomacy, in general, haven’t been doing as openly as they do now until this moment. So, what China does very specifically in Central and Eastern Europe, I mean because in Central and Eastern Europe, you don’t have many Chinese diasporas, there are some people, but they’re not there with our major communities. So that is not something that the Chinese government could use or misuse in some of these countries very much. So, the Chinese government or the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party, actually have to rely on elite capture incentives to Europe. So, what they do is that they actually try to reach out to, to develop relationships with individual politicians; they’ve been doing this very systematically across central Eastern Europe through the 17 + 1 format, and mainly bilaterally, and actually mobilize them when they need them for specific campaigns, which is exactly right now because they are four objectives, which we see China having in, I would say, Central and Eastern Europe. Number one would be Taiwan, so delegitimizing Taiwan and basically pushing local and national governments from even mentioning Taiwan or receiving and praising medical aid from Taiwan. So that’s one. Number two is actually pushing Huawei into the 5G networks in individual countries. That is one of the key objectives of the Chinese government. And I mean, at least in South-Eastern Europe, but I would honestly say anywhere in Europe. The third thing is actually making the local governments shut up on human rights issues, not only in the concentration camps but anything related to it. And currently, there’s a fourth objective, which obviously is the most massive one, massively visible one right now, is actually about rubbishing the Chinese or Chinese government’s reputation. So, actually, shifting the blame for the pandemic on the United States. That’s basically what the Russians have been doing all the time. And the Chinese are doing it very openly right now. And also, actually demanding – that’s what I think is very interesting. We see many Chinese institutions and also their proxies demanding from European politicians that they stand up at airports, or they openly praise the Chinese government’s response to this pandemic, which is completely hilarious, but it’s also very embarrassing. But we have seen some of the governments in Europe doing it. And that’s an important indicator for all of us because we see how far the Chinese elite capture actually goes in the current crisis. So very specifically, if you look across Europe, you can see very clearly that there are countries which I would openly call allies of the Communist Party of China. I mean, clearly, it is Serbia or the Serbian government, clearly, it is Hungary and the Hungarian government, and I’m afraid in Italy, we will see how far the Chinese government’s influence actually will get because of this pandemic because currently, we see China actually selling medical aid or supplies to Europe, there is not much of gifts donorship, it’s very much about selling it. But that’s the first phase. The second phase, which we now see coming up, is actually what they do when the Chinese government demands something from local governments. So, I would really expect them to happen to be demanding things on Taiwan or whoever on human rights and on praising the Chinese government’s response to this pandemic. At the very end, I would say there are three important, interesting trends, which we could see now. One, in some countries, we finally can see some of the far-right political parties actually standing up to China, which is something that I haven’t really seen in Europe over recent years. We have seen Matteo Salvini’s party, the far-right party in Italy, the one of which is in opposition now – so that might be one of the reasons – but they are openly attacking the Chinese government response, which I think is very interesting because European nationalists usually haven’t really been attacking China that much. But maybe they will right now because they clearly see the breaches of national sovereignty and individual European countries. And they finally might do at least one good thing in their political lives here. So, we’ll see if they do. Number two, I think we see, we hear the silence of many of academic and expert institutions in Europe, which to me is very interesting because we have seen a lot of elite capture coming from China and Chinese proxies actually to demand or make various things, various institutions silent on criticizing Chinese government’s actions on human rights and on Taiwan. There’s a massive elite capture, or I would say silencing of European academia and some of the think tanks in institutions. There’s a lot of Chinese governments and Chinese proxy money in, for example, many think tanks across Brussels, but also many other European capitals. And now we will very much clearly see how much does all this, I would say, direct capital investment coming from China actually will pay off in Europe. Because there are so many people who are willing to go into details over how is the Chinese Communist Party actually misusing this crisis. And I think it’s very visible in Germany, we’ll see how it goes in other countries. But I think this is an important thing, how we will see this happening. In the end, I think the bottom line here is that the thing which all of us have seen is that there is a new, I would say structural or strategic competition, or call for public confrontation between China and the free world, Chinese government and the free world, and it just got weaker, I think that’s what we can see now is that this confrontation, whatever we call it, we call it the new Cold War, or we find a different name for it. This just got quicker, and it’s already here. And it’s only a matter of time before people and institutions realize this. The US government actually understands this. Almost nobody in continental Europe, at least, very much likes to get it. So, I think it’s really an influencing geopolitical game in much of continental Europe if people and institutions will realize that this is going on and that there is an attempt by the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate them and get them neutralized in the confrontation between US and China.
James Rogers 41:54
Thank you very much, Jakub, for that good intro and the view of the situation from a Central and Eastern European angle. So, we’ve had a whole array of questions that have come in. So, onto the first question. Now, the way I’d like to do this is to group them into groups of three. So, if you’ve asked a question, we’re going to give you the opportunity to ask your question in person, and we will then be able to answer. Now, just before we go ahead and do that, I just like to remind you that if you have asked a question, would you please, when you come to ask it in person, would you please click on the mute button at the bottom left-hand corner of your browser, because that will allow you to speak if not, we will not be able to hear? So, onto the first question. The first question is from Ekaterina Dimitrova. Would you like to ask your question, please?
Ekaterina Dimitrova 42:56
Thank you so much; I find it all absolutely fascinating. My question is, obviously, China has a lot of interest in the EU disintegrating and becoming weaker and weaker. Do you think in a post-COVID Western and post-COVID Europe, it will start to resemble China more and more if China successfully manages to get their 5G infrastructure? Do you think there’ll be more surveillance and more collaboration between government and tech and reducing our personal freedom? Thank you.
James Rogers 43:25
Okay, thank you very much. The next question comes from Richard Galber. Would you like to ask your question, please?
Richard Galber 43:39
BRI has become quite a feature of Chinese policy. How much do you think the West, and Africa, for that matter, will retain the trust in BRI and China after this? Because if you take a look at things like what’s happened in controlling of ports, say in Sri Lanka, where they weren’t able to pay China the money for running a port, China’s taking over that port. So, it’s just the trust, what do you think would be the trust of this?
James Rogers 44:16
Okay, thank you very much for that question. The next question within this round is from Billy Wong. Would you like to ask your question, please?
Billy Wong 44:24
This is related to something John mentioned on Coronavirus diplomacy. Has China already won the first round of this game with its authoritarian lockdown supported by the WHO and adopted around the world as the best practice?
John Hemmings 44:51
I’ll quickly touch a little bit on each topic. I do see that if we continue to go down the route that we are where we pretend there isn’t a geopolitical competition between Europe and Western states and China that we will gradually become increasingly normalized, socialized into Chinese governance standards and data standards and sensitivities. We’ve already seen the export of the Taiwan issue, so that companies are no longer willing to speak openly. So yes, I think in the long term that would happen, that would take, you know, many years. The second question was about trust. To some extent, I agree with you; the heart of trust is an important issue. But actually, we’ve seen in the UK, for example, you know, the NCSC and the government have decided that China is a high-risk vendor and yet have started to implement a system by which a non-trusted company will be put into a trusted position. And so, I think there are other incentives that work here, like elite capture that Jakub has mentioned, there’s also the financing that makes their products much cheaper. And so, I believe there will continue to be PRC’s successes. And then the final question in terms of has China won the first round; I think it’s still kind of a mixed bag. To some extent, we’ve seen, you know, there was a great policy exchange event recently with Alexander (inaudible) and HR McMaster and William Hague. And there has been amongst, at least Western elites, the beginnings of a realization that the PRC is no longer you know – there seems to be a kind of red line has occurred where you saw Macron react very forcefully, seeing the EU should react very forcefully, certainly also in the US, and so, and you see the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe begins to put forward incentives towards decoupling from the PRC, ostensibly because of the PPE vulnerability and supply chain vulnerabilities. But I think you’re starting to see that not many people are persuaded by that metric.
James Rogers 47:04
Okay, thank you very much, John. Maybe we can move over to Theresa.
Theresa Fallon 47:08
Okay. In regard to Ekaterina’s question about the future of Europe, I was thinking about the 17 + 1 because China kept moving their strategy forward even during the Covid-19 pandemic. For example, we saw Hungary change its rules. That’s the much-anticipated link on China’s Land-Sea Corridor, starting with Piraeus ports in Greece, going all the way up through Estonia, to the to the Baltic. And one of the key links on this has been the Serbian-Hungarian Railway, which was effectively quashed by the EU because it didn’t follow EU procurement rules. So Orban has used this crisis to, you know, put these – all the documents in a hidden file for the next ten years. So, in fact, you know, China’s sitting there calmly, patiently poised, and now this railway will get built at a great cost. I mean, I haven’t done the figures myself, but I’ve seen some economists do the numbers, they said would take 120 years for this railway, which is completely overpriced, to even break even. So, but this is part of China’s long-term strategy. So, we actually see, you know, that they continue during this period to benefit. So, we see 17 + 1, this sub-regional grouping in Central Eastern Europe with 11 EU member states and five possible accession states. So, with Serbia, also, you know, saying China’s our saviour, President Vučić, met the aeroplane, you know, kissed the Chinese flag and really said that European solidarity is a fairy tale. So, it was a real win for China and a loss for the EU, even though the EU actually sent them more aid and has been giving them grants for many years. This seemed to have been ignored in light of this aid from China, which we don’t even know if it was purchased or given or if it was high quality or not. So, Vučić played his Eurosceptic card, and China got their payback with good publicity. In regard to trust, I think China has a big issue in regard to trust because we don’t know really what happened. We don’t know where patient zero, the Wuhan lab. No one has been allowed to go in there and investigate. A lot of doctors have disappeared, High-Level figures, even the Chinese themselves, don’t trust this government. So, Xi Jinping actually has a huge issue on his hands. Yes, it can control the narrative in China, but the Chinese people are really angry and really upset. And the biggest problem for China right now is the decline of their economy now for 40 years, isn’t it? Every year of a young person’s life was getting better now with this massive contraction of the economy, by Chinese figure 6.8%, it’s probably much bigger. But that’s what the numbers that they agree to. So, this is a nightmare because the deal is in public, Chinese public, you don’t get involved in politics, and you just be quiet, and your economy will keep growing and improving. So, I think that this idea of always, you know, China is this inevitable growth machine and everything’s going to go great there. Well, they’ve had a serious shock. So, we’ll wait to see how things eventually end because they can’t really grow their economy again until the rest of the world starts to improve their economies because they’re an export-driven economy. And then lastly, you mentioned Coronavirus diplomacy. I’m based in Brussels, and I was following very closely what was happening in China in Wuhan with the lockdown. And when they announced that we had a lockdown in Brussels, I was like, really sad. But it’s because I was just, you know, picturing in China, you know, people’s doors being welded shut, or piles of coal deposited in front of apartment buildings so that people couldn’t leave. And, of course, I knew it wouldn’t be that bad in Brussels. But, you know, we saw this horrible footage of people being, you know, captured and put into a box and then taken to a hospital against their will. And so, in Brussels, you know, it’s a democracy and people are expected to be mature enough to safely social distance and follow the rules. And I think I feel so happy that I can take a walk in the park, I can exercise my dog; I’m so glad I’m not under the Chinese system because I think I would have lost my mind. And we’re actually seeing people in Wuhan suffering like PTSD after the horrific situation that they were put under. So, I think, as John said, the jury’s out. And I think that democracies have shown that they can get their people to cooperate.
James Rogers 51:51
Okay, thank you, Theresa. Now on to Jakub.
Jakub Janda 51:54
Under surveillance and European countries, I think, I mean, even before the pandemic, there was a struggle between essentially the Chinese government’s blackmail of individual countries over whether they will allow Huawei to be pushed into their 5G infrastructure, and whether they will allow other surveillance tools, but essentially off of Chinese provenience actually coming to be used in our countries. We have seen it already happening in Serbia, partly tested in Bosnia, as well. And what I would expect is that there is actually a major; I would say the main decision will be over how Germany will react. Because currently, what happens is that the Chinese government actually tries to blackmail Germany, essentially telling them even publicly, well, if you do not allow Huawei into your 5G network in Germany, we will punish you through the car exports-imports to China. So, there is essentially a strategic blackmail situation between Berlin and Beijing. We’ll see how it actually turns out because there’s a lot of members of the Bundestag, the German parliament, which are protesting even the government’s decision in Berlin, which was very softer on Huawei and Chinese espionage. So, I would really expect this to be a major turning point because if you look across the map in Europe, you see that there are countries that are to some extent corrupted by Chinese interference. It might it is obvious, Hungary, Serbia, we’ll see how far Italy and Italian political establishment gets. Countries like Portugal, which was a victim of Chinese strategic influence over recent years as well. And we’ll see if other countries actually join the club in a negative fashion. The second question was actually if there is a lockdown practice if this Chinese practice will be used across the world? Well, I don’t really think it’s a Chinese practice. Honestly, if you ask anybody, experts on pandemics, they will tell you the lockdown practice to some extent is very usual thing to do, and it has been used before. The only question is how democratic or undemocratic the enforcement of these rules will be. So, it will be essentially a totalitarian government forcing you to do everything, like there is a mention inside China, or whether it will be evolved as essentially a voluntary but legally enforceable lockdown, as we have more or less everywhere in Europe, which I think is completely fine as long as it’s democratically controlled and is proportionate. So, you don’t get shot if you’re walking just in the streets with your dog, and you will not disappear if you raise your voice over your government’s activities, unlike what happens in China, unfortunately. So, I think more or less, it’s not a Chinese practice at all, honestly.
James Rogers 54:41
Okay, thank you very much, Jakub. And we now have the next round of questions. And if I can ask, the question is to ask the questions really quickly, so we can move through two or three more rounds because time is pressing on a little bit. And ditto to the panellists. It would be really wonderful if you could keep your answers as short as possible. So, the first question we have is from Chris Forrest. So, if Chris is with us, would you please ask your question?
Chris Forrest 55:11
The question I would like to ask is, will our relationship with China, which has been a trade relationship, change, and how are we going to manage this relationship? Should we – China need us? Will we start to look inward on reducing our demand for Chinese goods? How do we think we should play it?
James Rogers 55:35
Okay, thank you very much for that. The next question comes from Euan Grant.
Euan Grant 56:04
The dispute over red racist smears by Taiwan against the WHO chief? Is that the Chinese false flag?
James Rogers 56:18
Okay, thank you very much for that. And the final question from Steven Mowat.
Steven Mowat 56:36
I’d like to ask, how valid is the United Nations, given that China and other dictatorships hold positions on the Human Rights Council? And could the West set up an alternative to the United Nations?
James Rogers 56:55
Okay, thank you. Who would like to go and ask that question first, maybe if we hand it back to John?
John Hemmings 57:00
So, I’ll just answer two of the questions, the UN one and then the first question, which is, where do we go from here? The UN question, I do think we shouldn’t give up on it. My personal opinion, but I think the UN is not being destroyed by the PRC, but what they’re doing is they’re sucking out the liberal aspects to it, the democratic aspects too and therein lies the danger. And over the last three, US presidents have not really watched or thought that, but I think there’s more attention going to because of the COVID crisis. The COVID crisis, I think, was a big shock for everyone. How the perception of the WHO chose kind of, you know, PRC policy preference, says, how they lead. So, I do hope that there will be a push to research and fight for those institutions, which, if you think about it, the UK and US were highly responsible for setting up in the post-war period. And there’s a heck of a lot of liberal, democratic DNA inside. And the first question, and then I’ll stop, is the China question. Where do we go from here? I think decoupling or at least managing to decouple, limiting our exposure to PRC investment, very difficult, of course, to talk about this in a post COVID environment, which was suffering recessions, but I think we’ve seen that the PRC is winning formula is to use investment in order to gain elite capture and in order to insert ICT and high-tech into our infrastructures in order to gain even more elite capture and more market share. So, I do think we’re going to have also to begin to decouple, manage to decouple; we’re also going to have to start defending our institutions and democracies more rigorously, particularly in the media sphere, think tanks and universities. And finally, what would be amazing if we were to have a debate perhaps on reciprocity as an approach towards the PRC? At the moment, there is no kind of guiding principle. We don’t have a way of dealing with the PRC; I think reciprocity and collective diplomacy, collective action, those are the ones that actually the PRC would be on the defensive. And we would strengthen both the West transatlantic alliance and other partners and allies, countries like India, Japan, could also be, you know, hopefully, working together with the West in that way.
James Rogers 59:29
Okay, John. Maybe we can move on to Jakub, now.
Jakub Janda 59:32
I think our biggest, at least for smaller and midsize countries where I come in Central Eastern Europe, the biggest achievement would be if our trade with China would – actually we will be able to force the Chinese government not to attach any strings to his business or trade-in general because they use it extensively. There is also, I mean, they come in economically to put it that way, and they use it as political leverage, blackmail. So, and that’s something we’re actually smaller countries, (inaudible) five of buyer on their own, and if there are not collective answers, and they are not fully on China, we have collective action against Russian blackmail and intimidation. We don’t have that in China. Just look at how Sweden got harassed, or Canada gets harassed, even countries within the EU or NATO, and nobody stands up for them, from the whole alliance or from the EU. So that only shows you how desperate the situation is for small or midsize countries when they get blackmailed by China. I think it would be great if the West were or the free countries, free nations, would be willing to take the EU and back EU, to put it that way. I don’t think it’s going to happen in upcoming years, not only because of the US president but also because Europe is on such a defensive mode currently, inward-looking. And just specifically on China, if you just look across the European map. The UK is leading the European response on Russia, which is great, but it is not leading on China. Germany is so much interdependent; they have so much interdependency with China politically and economically that I don’t expect much of the pushback coming from Berlin. Berlin seems to be more like a (inaudible) of Chinese influence than the main extra countering it. So, I would honestly say we are very much on a defensive mode in Europe. And I mean, if you look across countries, which are willing to, for example, take our stances we have, those are countries like Poland, which don’t have much of exposure to China. So, it’s very defensive and very security-oriented, which I think is good but doesn’t really help us overall across all of Europe. So, I don’t honestly think it will be just coalitions of willing countries trying to defend themselves. Not much of a joint response across Europe, at least or globally. I don’t expect that to be happening, unfortunately.
James Rogers 1:01:53
Okay, Jakub. Maybe we can move on to Theresa, now.
Theresa Fallon 1:01:57
To answer Euan Grant’s question, the dispute of the alleged racist was a false flag. All I can say is what I’ve read in the media is Tsai Ing-wen said that didn’t happen at all and that she, in return, invited Dr Tedros to come to visit Taiwan. So, it will be interesting to see if he actually follows up on that. And there has been a change in the WHO narrative. There was just a hearing recently, and they did discuss Taiwan. The first question from Chris Forrest, you know, let’s, let’s go back pre COVID-19, Europe tended to sit on the fence, and they liked the narrative that we have to – you know, we want goodies from China, and we want defence from the US and how can we do this? And I agree with Jakub that there’s been an acceleration; the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated all of these issues. And the US was pretty much, you know, kind of saying, well, you’re going to have to pick and choose here. And I think this period is coming to a ripe end. And Europe is going to have to decide. This no more playing footsie under the table with China. Steven (inaudible) question is how valid the UN is. I agree with John that we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Yes, these international institutions do become politicized. They need constant reform and tweaking. But under this current US administration, they have been learning on the job, and they were kind of not very interested in multilateral institutions. But the Trump administration has also nominated a special roving ambassador to try to claw back US influence in these institutions. So, I think that this is a key element, and Europe needs to work together with the US; we have to guard our interests, and democracy really should be there. I mean, it’s been ironic that China is running the Human Rights Council. So, I think that’s enough said right there. Thanks.
James Rogers 1:03:50
Thank you, Teresa. So, we now have the final round of questions. And the first one, I’d like to ask John Dobson to ask his question. Are you with us, John?
John Dobson 1:04:01
I am. Can I just ask the panel to pursue a bit further Theresa’s point about the racism in China, in particular, the reaction of the African countries to the Guangzhou incidents of racism, which was pretty, pretty scary, actually. Is it going to affect the BRI interest in Africa permanently, or is it just a passing phase?
James Rogers 1:04:31
Okay, thank you, John. We’re now going to move on to Natasha Victor’s question. Are you with us, Natasha?
Natasha Victor 1:04:41
I am, hello. My question is if the UK decide not to roll out 5G infrastructure using Huawei. What are the alternatives, and who may be the alternatives?
James Rogers 1:04:53
Okay, thank you very much for that. And the final question from (inaudible). Are you with us? It seems like he had left us. So, I think we need to move on to those last two questions. So perhaps John will be the first to answer.
John Hemmings 1:04:53
I’ll quickly run through a great question on 5G by Natasha there. What are the alternatives? Well, the alternatives would be, of course, using European providers like Ericsson and Nokia, which the UK already does. That does weaken, I suppose, the UK approach, which is to have as diverse a group of vendors as possible. But there is the possibility of getting a third vendor in either from Japan or South Korea. Both countries are rapidly catching up in the 5G market. Samsung isn’t in the European market yet. But it is in terms of providing 5G equipment from, you know, core stations, base stations to routers, it’s really rapidly catching up with Huawei. And even in some areas surpassing so, I think that that could be looked at the alternative as, of course, both Teresa and I mentioned was the kind of working more at the state level, providing funds towards private entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and in Cambridge University or around the tech parks in the UK or in Europe, generally, to foster. But that would be a long-term solution. And I can’t remember the question because I got carried away with 5G. But anyway, I think there are alternatives. There’s a great myth that there are no alternatives to Huawei. Thank you.
James Rogers 1:06:38
Okay, thank very much, John. Maybe we can move on to Theresa now.
Theresa Fallon 1:06:41
John Dobson’s question about what happened in Guangzhou, I think it’s been very upsetting to the African community there. But African ambassadors have called on their Chinese counterparts and have given them, you know, a dressing down. They were actually told not to repatriate their citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. And so, they cooperated with them. And then to see them being kind of abused this way is really horrific for the African leaders. So, they’re losing face in Africa, everyone has faced. And I think that this is causing a huge problem for African relations with China. And there are already, that’s a boomerang effect that we’re seeing that in China. But I also wanted to add that the footage has been horrendous of people living in the streets, sleeping on the street, being beaten by local Chinese thugs, but also in China, you know, they can control the narrative. So, most of the people in China, according to Paul Mazar, who just left because all the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal were told to leave, they lost their visas, or they were all expelled. So, he wrote that the majority of people in China believe that COVID-19 came from the US and also from Italy. And now, because some of these Africans supposedly had COVID-19, they think it’s from Africa too, so it’s this narrative that it’s everyone else’s problem; everyone else is infected. And I think that this is going to feed, there’s a feedback loop on this in Europe, for example, Italians are really mistreated in Shanghai, which is probably the most cosmopolitan city in all of China. And for them to return from a business trip or whatever, they discovered that their locks were changed on the door and that they had to go to a hotel and weren’t allowed to stay in the same apartment building with other Chinese. So, there’s this kind of growing xenophobia within China. And I wonder how this is going to affect long-term business interest. Do people still want to invest in this kind of climate?
James Rogers 1:08:44
Okay, thank you, Theresa. Now over to Jakub.
Jakub Janda 1:08:47
On the 5G and Huawei, there are vendors or tech companies, which can do it very well, some of the Scandinavian ones. It’s actually – there is a disinformation and influence campaign around by whoever across Europe trying to push out the competition very well. And I think just it’s important to remind ourselves what the core argument is, and I will just paraphrase what the Czech cybersecurity agency actually says publicly. So essentially, they are saying Huawei, according to Chinese law, has to obey the orders of the Chinese Communist Party. So, the question is, do we want our critical information infrastructure, so basically, everything we live in upcoming years, do we want that to be under potential or current control of the Chinese Communist Party? So, the question is, if you trust the CCP, and I mean, I personally don’t trust them at all, if I see them lying and torturing people. So that’s the main question which is very principled, but it’s not a moral question, really. It’s a security and privacy question. So, in the end, this is this is what countries need to decide. But it’s not only a technical decision, because if you actually, I mean, but the Chinese also keep saying they are a private company. But if you exclude them for security reasons, the Chinese Ambassador will come and hit you in the face. So essentially, the Chinese Ambassador will confirm for you that Huawei is not a private company at all. So essentially, that tells you all I think what you need to know. So, it’s really a security and future decision for all of us. So, I really hope that you can go home and we’ll change this view because otherwise, it’s a slippery slope. And I’m afraid you can go on a slippery slope with an authoritarian government here.
John Hemmings 1:10:29
It is a great point Jakub made, which is whether it’s a technical question, but it’s also a normative question. You know, we’ve seen ASPI, the Australian Think Tank, research into Huawei’s involvement in Xinjiang in the repression surveillance system in the Uyghurs. And I think that’s one of the issues that we know that their labour is being used for slavery for a lot of the products and so can we, how do we, you know, use you said – are there any other choices? There are choices; you have to pay more to defend your values and be to defend your security. But there are choices.
James Rogers 1:11:12
Yes, thank you very much, John, and thank you to the panel for giving us your insights. And thank you also to those of you who asked us questions; I’m so sorry that we couldn’t answer all of them. I suppose, then, that this leads me to sum up or to make a few words, to sum up. And it seems to me from the comments that we’ve received, that in a way, the COVID crisis has been a bit like a lightning bolt that has come in a dark night. It’s revealed some of the issues that were already there in relation to China, but also more broadly, across the Atlantic Alliance, and the way in which we respond to the storm if you will, and the crisis that it will create afterwards is going to define our relationship with China in the years ahead. And I think in that regard, we have quite a lot of work to do in Europe, whether it’s the UK or the EU, or NATO or countries that are not in NATO, to work out how this relationship should be reformed and refined to reflect both the opportunities that there are, but also more importantly, perhaps the challenges that are beginning to emerge from the nature of China’s regime. So, without further ado, I bid you all good night and thank you for attending this discussion on the Atlantic alliance in a new age of Great Power Competition. Thank you, and good night. Okay.