Internal divisions prevent Europe from establishing a common policy for China

Bruno Maçães

Bruno Maçães

  |  Orlando Almeida/Global Imagens

Portugal's former Secretary of State for European Affairs Bruno Maçães said today that Europe is "unable" to agree on a common policy for China as Beijing advances its geostrategic ambitions.

"It is almost impossible for the European Union to have a common policy with regard to China", said Maçães during the presentation of his book 'Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order' in Beijing.

Arguing that Southern Europe feels that some of the EU's "partial rules" are unfair, the former secretary of state - currently living and working as a consultant in the Chinese capital - said it is "very tempting" for those countries to use China to counterbalance Germany's power.

"Don't buy the idea that everyone in Europe is thinking about what is best for the continent: we have historical rivalries ready to be reopened and revisited," he said.

The event was held on the eve of a European Council summit that will seek to rethink Europe's relationship with China - a country whose fast modernization and growing geopolitical importance raises concerns among Western powers.

Over the past decade, while European economies were stagnating, China has built the world's largest high-speed rail network, more than 80 airports and dozens of cities from scratch, bringing hundreds of millions of people to the middle class.

On the eve of this week's summit, Brussels released an unprecedented document describing China as an "economic rival" and "systemic adversary" that "promotes alternative governance models," and called for joint action to address the technological and economic challenges posed by China.

But despite protests from various EU partners, Chinese President Xi Jinping has started a European tour today in which it is expected that Italy will formally join the 'One Belt, One Route' initiative - the project that embodies Beijing's new internationalist vision.

Banks and other Chinese institutions are providing huge loans for projects under this gigantic infrastructural plan, which includes the construction of seaports, airports, motorways and railways across Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Africa, and Europe.

Portugal is one of the few EU countries to formally support the project. Portuguese authorities want to include an Atlantic route in the Chinese project, which would allow Sines Port to connect Far East routes to the Atlantic Ocean, benefiting from the expansion of the Panama Canal.

The aim is to "redraw the world economy map" in order to "put China in the center," restoring the country's "old vision of itself as a universal nation," says Bruno Maçães, who describes the Chinese project as a "very ambitious" challenge to the world order defined by the West.