On the Spanish and Italian radio and television news, Chinese diplomats are the new stars. As China’s relationship with the US worsens, the closer Xi is to Sánchez and Conte, with whom he has a direct line of communication and to whom he guarantees aid beyond that which he has committed to give to the EU as a whole. If a year ago we saw how Europe had become a morsel in the dispute between China and the US, now the situation is starting to change.
Germany and France show the spirit of their imperialism within Europe
It was triggered by Italy’s request for help, the lack of response from Brussels and the reaction of Germany and France: closing borders and blocking the export of masks, respirators and medical equipment. The masks became the symbol of a Europe whose ruling classes were unable to convert the simplest production chains – masks are no technological prodigy – in the midst of an emergency. But also -and this is not less important- of the unmistakable rapacious character of the German hegemony over Europe and of the fact that, at the moment of truth, France, far from exerting a “Southern counter-power”, just echoed the worst Merkelian barbarities.
China immediately saw its chance. It was the first country to come to Italy’s aid with materials, experts and “the results of the work of thousands of doctors”. If in imperialist wars the first form of intervention was military advisors and field doctors, now it is the logistics experts and virologists.
Spain, as soon as the spread began to erupt, saw that there was little to expect from the EU and fell in line with Italy. “We need help urgently and we don’t care about Chinese propaganda” declared a source from the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Chinese embassy in Madrid immediately began mobilizing Chinese migrants throughout Spain to bring materials and masks previously brought by diplomatic pouch to hospitals. Following shipments to Italy and Spain, Chinese aid is now being extended to France, Greece and Serbia.
Dressing imperialism up as supportive paternalism
It is not only a demonstration of Chinese power to mobilize resources even with cancelled flights and closed borders. Xi wants to show European countries that aid is part of a state policy capable of mobilizing even Jack Ma himself, to pay out of his own pocket 500,000 coronavirus diagnostic kits and 1 million masks to the most affected countries: the United States -which, when Ma got involved, still denied being so-, Japan, South Korea, Iran, Italy and Spain.
China also projected itself as a reliable partner that is hard and soft and that helps even its direct rivals. In the face of the criminal “letting go” of the Anglo-Saxon powers and Germany in the face of the spread and the rapacious instincts of Franco-German imperialism, China is unveiling a paternalistic mask for its global imperialist ambitions. China has realized that the epidemic gives it the opportunity to present itself as a welfare power, capable of building hospitals in a week, sacrificing a part of its economic success for its population and, in the worst context, reserving resources to help the rest of the world.
Much more than public relations
When Di Maio declared that “many countries are suspending flights and contacts with Italy, but we will remember all those who have been by our side at this time and we will keep that in mind in the future”, Xi scored his first important goal. But the stakes are much higher than just a question of “country image” and public relations. Much more even than Huawei’s contracts for the 5G network. China has long been playing at controlling and capitalizing on key infrastructure in the Mediterranean axis, from the railway entrance to the Balkans, flowing into Piraeus, to Trieste and Algeciras, and from them to the Portuguese Atlantic nodes, all ports managed by Cosco. And even further, to the small Chinese satellite launch bases in the Azores that bothered the US so much.
However much Asian diplomacy ensured that its expansion into Eastern and Central Europe was not intended to undermine the EU, China soon met with opposition from Germany and France. Germany was particularly sensitive because on the one hand it was losing its technological edge in key industries to China and on the other hand it saw its “backyard” occupied. By 2018, Chinese capital already accounted for over 60% of foreign investment in Portugal and was Greece’s second largest partner, further complicating the situation for an increasingly stagnant German imperialism. The response was overwhelming: Germany and France used the EU to implement defensive policies that drove down Chinese investment by 40% by 2018.
But China was taking root in the East and South of the European map, and the new imperialist map that was then beginning to be drawn was less and less a game of three (Europe-China-USA). The EU was fragmenting, Germany and France were unable to maintain a common strategy, and Europe was becoming the playing board for a background battle between China and the US that went far beyond the trade war.
Further reading (Spanish)
- «Europa, bocado en disputa entre China y EEUU», 3/15/2019
Nowadays, European national capitals are afraid that the drop in stock prices of their national champion companies will allow American – but also Chinese – vulture funds to buy their “national champions” down. That is why Sánchez promised to directly prevent purchases by non-European capitals in his emergency plan. The two major EU powers are going further: they simply fear that they will go bankrupt or lose their competitive position to such an extent that they cannot recover. That is why the German and French finance ministers have once again taken nationalizations for granted. As Bruno Le Maire, Macron’s finance minister, said, “France is in the midst of an economic and financial war that will be long and violent”.
The point is that the epidemic will not only change the competitive place and access to markets of European big business. It will also change the correlation of forces within the EU. It is now doubtful whether Italy, Portugal, Spain and even Greece would again support the adoption of “defensive measures” against China from Brussels. In a few weeks, when the health and economic crises further exacerbate the brutal instincts of the German bourgeoisie, it is more than possible that Germany and France, not China, will be the ones in an uncomfortable position on the European imperialist map.