Great Transatlantic rift: How the EU and U.S. are drifting apart over China
Jonathan Arnott


Editor's note: Jonathan Arnott is a former member of the European Parliament. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

The European Union doesn't trust America right now. There has been unease ever since the election of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and – even though Joe Biden is now President and from the opposing party – things haven't gone back to the way they were.

Bluntly speaking, the European Union has a desire to control the actions of other nations. It has its own beliefs on the meaning of such phrases as "human rights" and "social justice," and in every trade negotiation with any country around the world, it seeks to advance its own worldview.

I believe that nations have the right to sovereignty and – whatever my personal view on a political issue is – I do not condemn any nation which settles on a law which I just happen to disagree with. The European Union takes issue with America on many issues: healthcare, gun control and abortion spring to mind, as does the death penalty. The European Union nations have abolished the death penalty; the United States retains it.

Many times when I was a member of the European Parliament, I had to vote on resolutions condemning the United States (and other nations) for believing that some crimes – particularly murder – should carry the ultimate punishment. I voted against; it was none of my business as a British citizen to tell the United States or China or anyone else for that matter what their policy should be.

I have a right to comment only on my own country, where I lack sufficient trust in the United Kingdom's structures to believe that such a power would be used properly, fairly and wisely. To China, my view of sovereignty should chime fairly well as it is one of the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-Existence: non-interference in each other's internal affairs.

The European Union simply finds it difficult that the American structures reject many principles which the EU considers to be common parts of Western culture. It wants America to change, which America might well do eventually, but never at the behest of the European Union. America does not base its domestic policy on the EU's preferences.

For that reason, the fact that America chose a president from the Democratic Party rather than the Republican Party in 2020 did not really heal any rift with the European Union. Tensions remain beneath the surface, and it's reasonable to acknowledge their existence.

America, for its part, wants to dictate to the European Union. It couldn't care less about the EU's domestic policies, but it wants the EU to take a more hawkish approach towards China. The EU would like to exert influence over U.S. domestic policy; the U.S. would like to influence EU foreign policy.

The European Union won't cut trade ties with China. For all America's protestations behind the scenes, some EU countries are open to Chinese investment through the Belt and Road Initiative. America, by contrast, is tending to reduce its trade with China given the increasingly aggressive technological sanctions.

China-made Tesla Model 3 vehicles, which will be exported to Europe, at Waigaoqiao port in Shanghai, east China, October 19, 2020. /Xinhua
China-made Tesla Model 3 vehicles, which will be exported to Europe, at Waigaoqiao port in Shanghai, east China, October 19, 2020. /Xinhua

China-made Tesla Model 3 vehicles, which will be exported to Europe, at Waigaoqiao port in Shanghai, east China, October 19, 2020. /Xinhua

Meanwhile, the European Union has added another reason for feeling out of step with America: it opposes American protectionism – all the more ironic as the European Union's own Single Market is rather protectionist.

It seems to me that neither America nor the European Union truly understands each other. The wrinkle at the moment is that within America, just about the only issue uniting the constantly warring Democrat and Republican parties is that both seek a tough approach on China.

Europe might have shades of opinion on China; America merely has shades of hawkishness. The two are undoubtedly colliding. America's argument, in essence, is that following Russia's actions in Ukraine, Europe should expect China to do the same in the Taiwan region. It's a poor argument not only because it is based upon a false equivalence between two vastly different international situations, but also because Chinese President Xi Jinping is far more patient than his Russian counterpart. The European Union's response is that it can hardly blame China now for something that America feels China might do in the future.

That's the irony: European Union leaders believe that there is a clear "right" and "wrong" on some domestic issues – and they believe the United States is "wrong." The United States believes the European Union is "wrong" on its China policy. The United States bases its approach on conjecture and supposition, which makes it all the more difficult for European Union nations to feel any need to change theirs.

In reality, such absolutes rarely help in a complex modern world. On domestic or foreign policy, it is the height of arrogance to presume that your view is "right" and other countries' views are "wrong" and require correcting.

Whilst the lack of respect for each other's policies might be a key driver causing the EU and U.S. to drift apart, it seems to me that China is the catalyst.

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