• European_Horizons

European and Chinese Relations Post-Covid-19

Updated: May 28, 2020

written by Alec Monico

Photo Credit: Twitter/Axios

Published as part of the Pandemic Policy Series, dedicated to exploring European and transatlantic policies and experiences during this unprecedented time in global politics.

The European Union much like the United States has many questions about China’s handling of COVID-19 when it’s first recorded case had emerged in Wuhan, China. The subsequent responses to the EU’s questions are cause for concern. China has been documented as having threatened to diplomatically cut ties with the institution if the European Union’s European External Action Service (EEAS) published any critical reporting of China’s handling of the initial stages of COVID-19 and any calls for further investigation into the handling of the virus.

The EU is not the only institution that has been threatened to tone down rhetoric that focuses on Chinese culpability during the outbreak. Australia has also received threats about trade and post COVID-19 ties if it too continues with an investigation into the handling of the initial stages of the virus. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has called out China’s strong-arming attempt saying, “We reject any suggestion that economic coercion is an appropriate response to a call for such an assessment, when what we need is global co-operation. Payne is pushing for a closer look into the COVID-19 occurrences, “Australia has made a principled call for an independent review of the COVID-19 outbreak, an unprecedented global crisis with severe health, economic and social impacts.” European countries must also pursue an agenda similar to that of Australia and not fall short of reporting true and accurate findings because of amounting Chinese threats and pressure; this type of reporting jeopardizes the integrity of the EU in times of crisis and sets a bad precedent of what China can get away with when trying to push their own international censorship and agendas on smaller countries and institutions.

As CNN has reported on the installation of cameras outside as well as inside of citizens’ homes in China, it is clear that China wants full control over knowing what goes on in its citizens’ lives. How can a country with so much censorship and control over its citizens without respect to their privacy be trusted when it comes to their attempts at international censorship over the virus? What has become more intriguing and frightening is the boldness of Beijing in its threats towards sovereign nations and institutions in order facilitate to the world a tone of appreciation towards them without further inquiry and calling into question their handlings of the outbreak; essentially imposing on the freedoms of the west by attacking freedom of press. China’s approach to censorship in its own country is being applied to the world stage and is being forcefully applied to institutions like the EU and Australia taking form in economic threats. China’s strong-arming, mafia-like approach is cause for concern as it calls into question what else China could be hiding and is alarming as our freedoms are being infringed upon with the possible suppression of accurate reporting. Official numbers of infections and death in China are questionable as it claimed to have controlled the outbreak swiftly domestically whilst other countries still struggle with extremely high death tolls and infections. Unfortunately, one may never know the true numbers of the Chinese outbreak but what is for certain is the censorship over reporting internally and now their attempt at controlling what is said about them on the international stage. China’s attempt at clearing its name of its faults in handling the outbreak were attempted through the distribution of faulty and compromised medical equipment that was shipped to European countries which had to be returned all while China touted a publicity victory despite fully knowing the equipment was inadequate. China had enjoyed initial praise for its shipments of medical equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) as another way to rewrite its role in this historic event. Europe’s initial donations of medical equipment to help when China was at first the epicenter of the virus are being met by China with the sale of equipment and faulty equipment at that.

Chinese and European relations are for certain strained in this current moment. European nations are unhappy with the Chinese selling faulty equipment to countries like Spain, Netherlands, and the Czech Republic yet touting victory in their handling of the virus and their ability to aid other nations. Countries like France have been victim of inaccurate reporting with a Chinese diplomat in France falsely reporting French nursing home residents had been “left for dead” without medical attention and left to starve. This attempt at falsifying reports to critique the West’s response to the virus resulted in France’s foreign minister calling upon China’s ambassador all of which had been omitted in the EEAS’s report over China on April 24th which claimed China is a victim and not an instigator. European relations with China will change but the extent of that change will be interesting to follow.

COVID-19’s impact on the European Union has led the EU to shut its borders to the outside world and each country closing their borders as well. COVID-19 has affected the lives of Europeans, life has changed dramatically in Europe and all over the world. As the EU continues to fight the coronavirus and working hard to find a vaccine, the institution has been put in a difficult position economically and diplomatically. The future of relations with China post-COVID-19 will be interesting as China continues to push its narrative internationally that it is the victim of false reporting as opposed to an instigator of it. China’s efforts to push this narrative are evident in Europe after it caused the European External Action Service (EEAS) to publish its toned-down version of its findings in China’s role throughout the entire transpiring of COVID-19. China had threatened Brussels three times before the release of the article as it claimed the reports were false and the publication of such false reports would damage the relationship between China and the EU.

China’s attempt at censorship on an international level causes one to think about the complicity of the European Union during these trivial times. Europe’s need to break away from the vice grip of China is evident now more than ever as European countries’ last line of defense is to protect themselves from China buying up companies that find themselves in economic distress as a result of the economic downturn from the worldwide virus-imposed work stoppage. European countries may want to consider buying these important companies instead of risking China getting their hands on them.

Alec Monico is enrolled in the European and Mediterranean Studies Master program at NYU starting this fall. Alec studied at Rutgers University in New Brunswick where he received his B.A. with a major in Latin American and Caribbean Studies and a minor in Spanish. While at Rutgers University, Alec started an at-home and online personal training business which he continued after graduation and has had the opportunity to meet and work with people from all different walks of life. His academic interests include right-wing populism, nationalism, economics, European policy and Europe's connection to the Americas. Alec speaks Spanish, Italian and French.

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