24.05.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The PRC-Japan rivalry extends to Europe

The PRC-Japan rivalry extends to Europe

Together with India, China and Japan form today the strategic triangle on which the political and economic situation in Asia will increasingly depend. The latter however is the continent where the focus of the current stage of the “Great Game” is shifting more and more definitely. Leaving the territory of another continent, which for centuries, if not millennia, was Europe.

Though the terms “shifting” and “leaving” do not refer to a fait accompli, but to a process. If we add to the latter term the definition of “transitional,” we get a phrase that more or less adequately describes the state in which the world order as a whole finds itself today. The “focus” is really moving from Europe to Asia, but it has not yet completely left the former. And the events of the last year in the east of the European continent, which are stirring up the whole world, only confirm this fact.

The continuing importance of Europe’s place in the modern world order (despite the not infrequent skepticism on this issue) is also confirmed by such crucial specifics as the scale and the level of development of its economy. Both in general and especially in the leading European countries. Until recently, Europe’s presence in Asia was manifested almost entirely in the form of various kinds of interaction with Asian countries in the economic sphere. For example, by the annual volume of trade with China, the EU has long been firmly in first place, and is noticeably ahead of the United States, which comes second. At the end of 2022, the respective figures were $860 billion and $690 billion.

But for the last two or three years there has been also a certain military-political activation of Europeans outside their continent in general and in the Asia-Pacific region in particular.

Naturally, all aspects and problems of interaction between leading Asian countries and Europeans are the subject of negotiations between high-ranking representatives of both. Moreover, while there is no ambiguity in the representation of the former, both the leaders of individual (mostly also crucial) European countries and senior EU officials speak on behalf of Europe. Noticeably, the most resounding foreign policy statements on behalf of the Old Continent are uttered by the latter, the mystery of whose very origin, as they say, is “great”. And almost certainly it can hardly be defined by the category of “democracy”.

Let us also note that recently there have been signs of inconsistency in the behavior of leading European countries in the international arena in general and in relations with Asian partners in particular. This has been particularly evident in the recent series of visits to China by a number of European politicians, which took on the character of a pilgrimage.

Moreover, this discord is observed even between politicians belonging to the same country. It is not easy for French President Macron today in his home country after his mostly positive trip to China. Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is also subject to unprecedented defamation in his home country. Only because he actively participated in the Nord Stream-2 project. It is hard to imagine a more pro-German business project that fully corresponds to the 50-year-old “New Eastern Policy” of Willy Brandt. It was a successful framework for Germany’s relations with the USSR. Both the mentioned project, and Gerhard Schröder himself are lambasted today by flawed subjects (of different genders), who apparently speak their native language no more often than English.

Therefore, the composition of the political establishment with whom the representatives of the leading Asian countries have to deal on the European continent is becoming increasingly complex and confusing. Which to a certain extent reflects the process of fragmentation of the European political organism, which once included (to its misfortune) a parasitic group of small Eastern European political-economic racketeers. Some of them are simply bandits on the great trans-European highway.

Each time they arrive in Europe, the representatives of the leading Asian players see before them an increasingly complex picture of the state of affairs on the continent. In this respect, Europeans, who, again, are showing more and more varied interest in Asia, have an easier life. Because there has long been no doubt about the positioning of two of Asia’s three main partners, China and Japan, vis-à-vis each other. Namely: this positioning is becoming more and more mutually competitive (to put it mildly). And there is no light at the end in this (negative for all) tunnel, judging by the results of the recent talks in Beijing by the foreign ministers of both countries, Yuu Hayashi and Qin Gan.

In the first half of May this year, they both found themselves on the European continent almost simultaneously, each dealing with his own (or rather those of the countries they represent) problems, which are of a fundamentally different nature. For China, the relevance of the issue of developing relations with Europe is due, we repeat, above all to the fact that it is its main trading partner. This is extremely important for a country whose economy is still largely export-oriented, despite ongoing efforts to “turn inward”.

In addition, recently, with a sharp increase in the level of confrontation with its main geopolitical opponent (the United States), the importance of the political component in China’s relations with the Europeans has grown significantly. The task at hand looks very simple: to keep Europe from joining Washington’s global strategy of military and political encirclement of China.

Both of these aspects determine Beijing’s preferences for individual European countries. Among them, Germany and France are the undisputed leaders. Until recently, Italy was one of them. But the recent outbursts by its leadership on the Taiwan issue and its intention to withdraw from cooperation with China in the Belt and Road Initiative will undoubtedly have a negative impact on its relations with the second world power. Not being an expert on Italy, the author does not understand why it needed such “(mis)adventures” and so far explains them by the specific temperament of its sympathetic people.

However, this is probably a weak explanation. Since for the people with the opposite temperament, which are the British, things with China did not work out either. Although in the middle of last decade, Prime Minister Cameron, receiving Chinese leader Xi Jinping, spoke about the onset of the “golden age” in British-Chinese relations. However, during the premiership of his successor, Teresa May, who replaced him as prime minister, there occurred a sort of “tumbler switch” in UK foreign policy. At that time, by the way, the Skripals were strangely “poisoned”.

In general, since then, British politics have somehow gone awry. Suddenly and for some reason, a seemingly healed sore with the situation in Hong Kong made itself felt. Although all Beijing had decided was to finally pacify the especially violent fighters against “Chinese communism,” who were openly nostalgic for the former (British) times of “freedom and democracy.” Which, in fact, had nowhere been to be seen. Then British aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth for some reason rolled through the Taiwan Strait, thus completing a seven-month exercise in the Indian Ocean and the Far East, which had began in May 2021. Finally (May 10 this year), it was reported that the penultimate UK Prime Minister Elizabeth Truss was scheduled to visit Taiwan.

In general, the “British” component of China’s relations with Europeans looks the worst so far. Although it remains unclear whether the British see themselves as Europeans.

But Japan’s relations with the latter (of all Europeans) look the best. As has almost always been the case in modern history. What falls out of this overall assessment is the relatively short period on the eve and throughout World War II. The sharp acceleration of their restoration began with the 2016 visit to Japan by the above mentioned Theresa May. When, after the well-known results of the just held plebiscite on the question of the country’s further stay in the EU, it was decided once again to search for happiness “east of Suez”.

However, if it is measured, as they say, in hard cash, then the British purse did not see much more of it in the course of the searching (which has been going on for a decade already). Mainly because it is still being substantially filled in Europe and it is absolutely unclear why the British business needs to take it to the other side of the globe.

Although it is positive to note that early this year the UK completed the procedure of joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). By the way, the unspoken leader of the CPTPP is Japan, with whose patronage the UK has joined the Agreement.

But the main thrust of Japan’s relations with the UK (and Europe in general) is rooted not in the economy, but in defense and security, which the two sides placed at the center of their attention even during May’s visit to Japan. This, incidentally, is one of the main differences in the positioning of Japan and China on the European continent.

Today the NATO alliance is trying to speak for Europe on this issue, increasingly acquiring the character of a dinosaur-parasite on the continent’s body, poisoning its entire space. The products of its activity are the mentioned Eastern European limitrophe states, playing the role of peripheral metastases on the same body. One of the landmark events in the course of the (long-standing) process of developing relations between Japan and NATO was the decision to mutually open permanent missions. The evaluation (quite understandable) of this decision by its main “object” is reflected in the illustration of the Chinese Global Times.

The military and political rapprochement of the UK (and NATO) with Japan perfectly fits into the trend of the Japanese-British development of the Generation 6 fighter aircraft which began a few years ago. Italy joined this project in March 2023. A remarkable fact, given the context in which that country was mentioned above.

So far there is no evidence of France and Germany virtually joining it, relations with which are currently given special attention in the PRC. At any rate, it is not mentioned in the Japan-France Joint Statement adopted following the May 9 Paris ordinary meeting of the bilateral “2+2” platform. Also noteworthy is the brevity of the event, and the use of well-established common memes in the summary document (also very brief).

Let’s hope that the aforementioned evidence does not appear in the future. This will, in particular, require that the fountain of hysterical propaganda (at least in the state media) with “marching on Berlin” and other European capitals finally be shut up.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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