It was always going to happen.
In the space of a few short years, China’s ruling Communist Party elite have dropped the cuddly panda act and shown their red dragon teeth to the rest of the world.
Fire-breathing suppression at home has torched even basic human rights as General Secretary Xi Jinping tightens the surveillance state from Hong Kong to Xinjiang.
Abroad, his foreign policy coercion tactics and his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin have left China with a catastrophic image problem. Even the European Union has finally woken up from its Chinese dream to find a Beijing nightmare.
“How China continues to interact with Putin’s war [in Ukraine] will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward,” Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, said in a scathing speech last week.
“These actions point to a China that is becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad,” she added.
Beijing’s initial reaction was mystifying but predictable, judging by the editorial in the state-run Global Times at the weekend. One can only assume they translated the wrong speech.
What was said:
- “Judging from this address, we can see the shadow of various debates on Europe’s China policy.”
- “This is the latest effort by EU leaders to find a position for the EU amid the changing dynamics of major power relations.”
- “There can be no doubt that various sectors hope to maintain cooperation with China independently from the US.”
- “This creates a certain foundation for the return of a rational and pragmatic attitude to Europe’s China policy.”
Delve deeper: Von der Leyen did offer a small olive branch at the end of a very big stick. But she made it clear what the democracies of Europe think of the “China Century” and Beijing’s “no limits” partnership with Moscow.
Parting shot: “Most telling, were President Xi’s parting words to Putin on the steps outside the Kremlin when he said: ‘Right now there are changes, the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together,’” von der Leyen said.
New order: “[The Chinese Communist Party’s] clear goal is a systemic change of the international order with China at its center … We have seen the show of friendship in Moscow which says a thousand words about this new vision for the international order,” she added.
Global dominance: “He essentially wants China to become the world’s most powerful nation,” von der Leyen warned, referring to Xi’s address at the Communist Party Congress in Beijing last year.
China Factor comment: Von der Leyen and French President Emmanuel Macron are due in Beijing this week for talks with Xi. It appears the fireworks have already started.