Over the past few months, an interesting shift is being witnessed in the global political spectrum, and the concept of "economic security strategy" has started garnering inordinate attention in major capitals across the globe. Embracing this notion, Japan was the first such country that released its National Security Strategy document last December. Now the European Commission, known as the EU's executive arm, has followed suit and also released its own European Economic Security Strategy last month, further congealing the increasing use of “economic security” as a new tool by the West to deter the so-called “China threat.”
The Joint Communication of the EC has put forth a detailed plan that focuses on “minimizing risks stemming” from certain economic flows, while emphasizing on the need for heightened vigilance and proactive measures to protect the European Union's economic interests in an ever-evolving global landscape. The proposed economic security plan urges member states to tighten export controls on tech that could be exploited by other rivals. It further explicates worries about "countries of concern" harnessing AI and quantum computing for military purposes, which necessitates caution in sharing such technologies. Not surprisingly, while the document avoids direct reference to China, it is difficult to ignore the prevailing China-centric context that underlies its content. The absence of explicit mention may be seen as a nuanced approach, but the underlying subtext unmistakably refers to Beijing.
China's meteoric rise and its increasing influence in global affairs have created a new paradigm, one that has compelled the European leadership for a recalibration of strategies and priorities. By framing the conversation around "minimizing risks" arising from specific economic flows, it becomes evident that the primary concern lies in mitigating potential challenges associated with China's expanding economic footprint. The document, although not explicitly naming China, predominantly advocates the need to address the impact of China's economic ascendancy on geopolitical tensions. The paper unabashedly adopts the perception of "de-risking," a policy ostensibly aimed at mitigating the potential hazards associated with the so-called “excessive” dependency on China's economy.
The European Economic Security Strategy paper asks for an additional 10 billion euros ($10.9 billion) from EU member states, purportedly to support the development of so-called "strategic technologies." This plea serves as the inaugural move by the commission to manipulate and cajole EU nations into endorsing its confrontational agenda. However, evidently, there is much difference among the EU members on this concept of de-risking and decoupling. This proposal will be tested in the upcoming summit in Brussels on July 29-30, where discussions on China will expose the inherent reluctance of some EU members to surrender their authority. The stage appears to be set for some sort of contentious battle of self-interest within the EU.
The proposal of de-risking put forth by certain leaders in the EU is utterly misguided, as China poses no inherent risk whatsoever. In fact, it is the notion of economic security itself that is erecting unnecessary barriers to Chinese investments in the EU, thereby inversely affecting the interests of European companies. Those advocating for a pragmatic approach argue that the China-Europe relationship should be driven by practical cooperation rather than geopolitical maneuvering. According to the official website of the European Commission, the strategy acknowledges the rapidly evolving risks presented by specific economic connections in the current geopolitical and technological landscape. These risks are increasingly intertwined with security concerns, prompting the EU to adopt a rather cautious approach to identifying, evaluating and managing risks to its economic security. However, this perspective fails to recognize that the true nature of these risks is not inherently tied to China.
By framing China as the sole source of concern, the EU is ignoring the broader context and potential benefits of engagement. Instead of succumbing to an overly cautious and adversarial mindset, European policymakers should strive for a more nuanced and balanced approach that prioritizes mutual understanding and collaboration. The EU strategy, with its evaluation of economic security risks, aims to uncover the vulnerabilities within supply chains, energy security, critical infrastructure's physical and cybersecurity, as well as the perils associated with technology leakage and the weaponization of economic dependencies or coercion. As per the EU economic security strategy paper, these potential risks predominantly stem from exports and investments that facilitate the transfer of valuable expertise to foreign adversaries in a limited range of crucial military-related technologies. Quantum computing, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and robotics are all cited as prime examples of these domains. The strategy document talks about the emergence of these risks and underscores the need for a vigilant approach to safeguarding vital European interests against potential threats. The narrative of decoupling or de-risking championed by certain European politicians appears to be out of touch with reality, as there remains ample space for constructive dialogue and collaboration between China and Europe across various sectors.
The EU simply cannot afford to sever its ties with China's industrial and supply chain, as no other country possesses comparable production capacity, processing capabilities and cost efficiency. Striking a balance between retaining the benefits of engagement and addressing concerns is undoubtedly a complex task for the EU. As China and Europe undergo transformative shifts, their relationship should evolve accordingly. Embracing change is inevitable. The China-Europe connection is a progressive journey that should not be deterred by external factors – including Washington’s interference.