Will Europe Ignore U.S. Warnings About China Like They Ignored Warnings of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine?

COMMENTARY Europe

Will Europe Ignore U.S. Warnings About China Like They Ignored Warnings of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine?

May 18th, 2022 4 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Olivia Enos

Senior Policy Analyst, Asian Studies Center

Olivia specializes in human rights and national security challenges in Asia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin reviews the guard of honor during a memorial ceremony in Kursk, southern of Moscow, on August 23, 2018. ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO / AFP / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

The U.S. has continued to sound the alarm on the rising threat that China poses to Europe. And such warnings have been largely ignored.

The situations in China & Ukraine are different—but both are grave. Uyghur lives are being destroyed, but the evidence isn’t making its way into our living rooms.

The threat posed to European security, values, economy, and more will surely be at their doorstep sooner than they realize. Maybe it has already arrived.

For almost three months now, Russia has wreaked destruction on the people of Ukraine—as the world watches in horror.

The photo of the Ukrainian mother emerging with her newborn baby from the bombed-out maternity hospital in Mariupol haunts us. The video of the father placing his children on the train for evacuation as he headed to fight on the frontlines for his country brought tears to our eyes. Images of a war-torn Ukraine brought a faraway war straight into the comfort of our living rooms.

These images have prompted a response. Today, the U.S. and Europe stand in unity against Russia and in support of Ukraine. Even after Europe ignored early intelligence warnings from the U.S. about Russia’s impending invasion, European allies and partners banded together in solidarity once the worst became reality.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is hardly the first time that warnings have been issued by the U.S. to European allies and partners. Even as its diplomatic approach to China has become more solicitous, the U.S. has continued to sound the alarm on the rising threat that China poses to Europe. And such warnings—like those issued before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—have been largely ignored and relegated to the periphery of policymaking.

>>> The Top Five U.S. Priorities for European Policy After Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

Despite the threat from China inching ever-closer to European interests, it is playing second-fiddle to the threat posed by Russia. The UK was particularly awakened by the CCP’s dismantling of freedom in Hong Kong in 2020—it hit close to home since the agreement between the UK and China that safeguarded freedom in Hong Kong since 1997 was abrogated by the CCP, bringing tens of thousands of Hong Kong refugees to its shores.

The rest of Europe was slightly more concerned after the 5G debate when the threat of subversive Chinese technology produced by Huawei became more apparent. Even when a pandemic, with no regard for borders, escaped from China spreading globally, debates over the threat posed by CCP are still largely relegated to the backbenches of the UK and European Union’s (EU) parliament.

We do not have pictures of the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity against Uyghurs in China. But just as in Ukraine, Uyghur children are being torn from their families. Mothers and fathers sent to camps, or forced to labor in other parts of China, or children sent to live-in kindergartens to be reeducated by the CCP.

The situations in China & Ukraine are different—but both are grave. Uyghur lives are being destroyed, but the evidence isn’t making its way into our living rooms. Instead, Uyghurs dwell in relative obscurity beyond China’s borders.

Uyghur genocide has—to a certain extent—created an opportunity for European action. The EU joined forces with the United States, the UK, and Canada in March 2021 to issue sanctions against Chinese perpetrators of the atrocities. These were met with retaliation, including counter-sanctions by China, which were met with the EU’s decision to put an investment agreement with China in the “freezer.”

As the events of February 24 took center stage, any commitments to countering the China threat in Europe receded in priority as an all-hands-on-deck effort was rightly organized to counter Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine. This effort involved comprehensive sanctions, the arming of Ukraine’s forces, and aid and support for refugees fleeing the violence. It has been comprehensive and sweeping.

Those concerned about the threat posed by China do not object to the comprehensive measures undertaken to counter Russia, but they do wonder why more is not being done to counter China—or, more simply, why the U.S. and Europe seemingly cannot walk and chew gum at the same time?

European policymakers are not now considering more sweeping sanctions against China. There is no broad effort to offer safe haven to Uyghurs and Hong Kongers. Some are concerned that the investment agreement currently sidelined could be revived at a future date. And even in spite of the so-called frozen investment agreement, many European businesses, like Volkswagen’s Chairman of the Board Herbert Diess, are looking for more ways to “boost their #China business.”

>>> Europe Still Struggling Through Ukraine Crisis

Many in Europe say that they are just waking up to the threat posed by China. But if Europe is just waking up, it is still half-asleep.

Some from Europe refer to Russia as the visible threat and China as the invisible one. But China’s threat to its people and to human decency can hardly be categorized as invisible. Those claiming the threat from China is invisible, are failing to open their eyes to the evidence laid bare before them.

And with their eyes closed, the threat posed to European security, values, economy, and more will surely be at their doorstep sooner than they realize. Maybe it has already arrived.

This piece originally appeared in Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/windriver/2022/05/06/the-art-of-defense-mitigating-cyber-exposure-with-threat-modeling/?sh=48be56cc4b15