Beijing’s great power politics are a bigger threat to the EU than to the US
Among the legacies of Donald Trump’s administration is an abiding concern among America’s allies that it will drag the west into needless conflict with China. The president’s belligerence has been succour for those who argue that, where the US sees a geopolitical rival, Europeans should stay fixed on the economic opportunities. Rather than take sides, the EU should play the role of mediator.
Europe’s fears, softened only in part by Joe Biden’s election victory, are at once understandable and perilously misplaced. They turn on its head the real balance of threat to the US and Europe. To the extent that President Xi Jinping wants China to rule the world, the challenge to the US is serious. For the EU, the danger is existential.
The US knows how to play the great power game. Economically and militarily it is well equipped to do so, at least for the next 20 years. Like Beijing, Washington guards its national sovereignty against intrusion from international rules. Europe is the odd one out here. The EU is what political scientists call a “normative” power: it exercises leadership by example. It will not survive in a world of Beijing’s design, where cherished rules are replaced by the will of the mighty.