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s200 joseph.fallonOn July 1, 2021, in his speech celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, China’s President Xi declared: "We must take resolute action to utterly defeat any attempt toward ‘Taiwan independence’…No one should underestimate the resolve, the will, and the ability of the Chinese people to defend their national sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

If China invades Taiwan, which appears more likely after Beijing’s successful coup d’état against Hong Kong on June 20, 2020 and the U.S./NATO debacle in Afghanistan on August 31, 2021, Joseph E Fallon considers what options are available to the EU to respond to such aggression?

Based on the EU response to the plight of the Uyghurs in China, the answer is few to none. It has been said of EU foreign policy that “Moralise loudly while brandishing a twig, might be its motto.”

In ”Break Their Lineage, Break Their Roots”, Human Rights Watch reported “Research by Stanford Law School’s Human Rights & Conflict Resolution Clinic and Human Rights Watch, along with reports by human rights organizations, the media, activist groups, and others, and internal Chinese Communist Party (CCP) documents, show that the Chinese government has committed—and continues to commit—crimes against humanity against the Turkic Muslim population.”

The EU Response?

On March 22, 2021, the EU responded to Beijing’s mistreatment of Uyghurs, which includes collective punishment, religious persecution, mass imprisonment, slave labor, and sterilization, by imposing “travel and economic sanctions on four of China's officials”! [Underline added]

These “sanctions are the first the EU has imposed since 1989”! [Underline added]

Taiwan, therefore, can expect no realistic help from the EU. At best, the EU may impose “travel and economic sanctions” on a few minor Chinese officials, but not on President Xi, members of the Chinese Communist leadership, or heads of Chinese state enterprises, where it could have an impact.

Geopolitics is conducting foreign policy on an understanding of “how political power is reinforced or undermined by geographical arrangements (boundaries, coalitions, spatial networks, natural resources, etc.).

At present, geopolitics is an elaborate chess game played out on a global scale between China and the U.S.

It is a game from which the EU is absent. It is a game in which the EU is not a power, but a pawn.

In this game, China employs its Belt Road Initiative (BRI) through which Beijing loans “trillions of dollars in infrastructure financing to Asia, Europe, and Africa” raising “the risk of debt distress in some borrower countries”, to achieve global hegemony through the establishment of “tianxia”.

“Literally ‘all under heaven’, it referred in traditional times to the sway of the Chinese emperor… In current foreign policy debates, it means a projected global order that, unlike the system of nation-states, conforms to Chinese values, and in nationalist interpretations is amenable to Chinese interests.”


“Tianxia” is a philosophy that “transcends the past 300 years of traditional Western international relations theory.” That 300 year tradition is the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, by which all states, big or small, weak or strong, are recognized as equal sovereign actors in the international arena. A treaty that midwifed the “creation of modern, liberal democracies”. This is to be “transcended” by a new world order that “conforms to Chinese values, and…amenable to Chinese interests” to advance a Communist dictatorship.

Pursuing “tianxia”. Beijing employs “economic tools…trade policy, investment policy, economic and financial sanctions, financial and monetary policy, energy and commodities, aid and cyber…to project power” and in doing reshape the global order to its advantage.

Through BRI, “Beijing is amassing levers of influence to be able to operate in a more favorable strategic environment. Combined with China’s systematic push to expand its influence in multilateral rule-setting institutions and in some cases to create new ones, these roads seem to lead toward a regional or perhaps global ecosystem that would disadvantage the United States and other of China’s competitors.” That includes the EU.

As the Council on Foreign Relations posted on April 27, 2021, for that reason, BRI has “a growing footprint in Europe, with two-thirds of EU member states now signed on as formal partners… In addition to undermining European unity, BRI may also work to cleave the transatlantic alliance” between the U.S. and the EU.

China has already been able to change the narrative on human rights. “The international community’s unwillingness and inability to hold China to account is driven by China’s growing economic dominance, especially as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) gains momentum, Beijing’s willingness to tolerate human rights abuses in other countries, and its moderately successful efforts to modify the international human rights regime to make it more accommodating of China’s actions.”

Despite Beijing denying it seeks hegemony and asserting to the contrary BRI is a “win-win” policy for all, “research from unofficial PRC state- and CCP-affiliated publications shows that Chinese analysts believe developing the BRI and achieving Chinese security are intimately linked. In fact, Chinese analysts—in both diplomatic and military publications—explicitly discuss using international assistance and the BRI as a pretext for pursuing China’s grand strategy. Many of these observers recognize that a network of maritime logistics hubs throughout the Indo-Pacific, including ports, has the potential to change the region’s strategic landscape, and several explicitly describe the role of infrastructure investment in Chinese grand strategy. Scholars from the PLAN’s Naval Research Institute do not speak on behalf of the state, but they do reflect the overarching ambitions found in China’s domestic discourse on this issue: ‘meticulously select locations, deploy discreetly, prioritize cooperation, and slowly infiltrate.’” [Underline added]

That China would seek global hegemony was anticipated by an American scholar 80 years ago. In 1942, Nicholas Spykman of Yale University observed that at the conclusion of World War II, “China will be a continental power of huge dimensions in control of a large section of the littoral… marginal seas that he called the ‘Asiatic Mediterranean.’…Those marginal seas control China’s access to the Pacific Ocean and the sea lanes of communication connecting the Indian and Pacific Oceans…[Spykman] foresaw a struggle between the U.S. and China for control of what he called the Asian Rimland.”

According to Spykman by controlling the rimland of Eurasia -- shipping lanes, strategic straits and ports, and insular “seas”, not its heartland as Mackinder had contended -- one state could dominate the countries of Eurasia and from there subjugate the rest of the world. This is the strategy Beijing is pursuing through BRI.  

Beijing has utilized wealth acquired as a result of its domestic economic reforms over the past 40 years in “securing access to certain trade routes, strategic bottlenecks, rivers, islands and seas”, through the establishment of dual usage civilian/military ports, the “string of pearls”, in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

In addition, Beijing is building an armada of “warships capable of deep oceanic power projection” into both oceans.

In the Pacific, the Chinese navy has already “broken” the U.S. first island defense chain. Created by Washington in the Cold War, the first island chain “begins at the Kuril Islands, runs through the Japanese Archipelago, the Ryukyu Islands and the island of Taiwan, the northwestern portion of the Philippines (particularly Luzon, Mindoro and Palawan) and finishes towards Borneo.”

For Beijing to develop “a strong and permanent military presence in the first island chain would give China control of the major shipping routes in Asia, and help in establishing itself as a dominant global power…Once China solidifies its power in the first island chain, its next target would be the second island chain. China’s presence in the second island chain [Japan-Guam-Palau-Western New Guinea] would give Beijing control of the middle of the Pacific…”

As China’s 2015 white paper on military strategy stated: “The traditional mentality that land outweighs sea must be abandoned, and great importance has to be attached to managing the seas and oceans and protecting maritime rights and interests”. [Underline added]

If a country possesses natural resources or a strategic location it becomes an asset Beijing will seek to acquire.

In this chess game, the inability of a potential geopolitical prize to defend itself from acts of overt or covert aggression makes that country a “pawn” reduced through Chinese loans, investments, and debt to the status of astrategic support state” “…insuring China has the ability and resources to guide the actions of the country so that they fit into [China’s] strategic needs.”

The EU ranks as a “pawn” because of two paradoxes.

The first paradox is while the EU is in effect an economic super-power, the world’s third largest economy after the U.S, and China, it lacks the military capabilities to defend itself or its vital interests.

As of 2019, “the bulk of the EU’s two million-strong EU armed forces are paramilitary policemen or administrative personnel, with less than 5% equipped for a combat role.”

On November 20, 2020, “EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters: “European defence suffers from fragmentation, duplication and insufficient operational engagement.”

Seven months later, the assessment was much grimmer. According to U.S. news outlet, Politico, June 14, 2021,“European forces aren’t ready to fight with the equipment they have,” analysts from the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank close to the White House, wrote in a recent report. “And the equipment they have isn’t good enough”. The report said that after decades of decline, “much of Europe’s military hardware is in a shocking state of disrepair. Too many of Europe’s forces aren’t ready to fight. Its fighter jets and helicopters aren’t ready to fly, its ships and submarines aren’t ready to sail, and its vehicles and tanks aren’t ready to roll.” And more crucially, for operations far away, Europe lacks capabilities like air-refueling for fighter jets, transport aircraft for troops, and high-end reconnaissance and surveillance drones.”

The second paradox is the EU seeks economic growth by promoting free trade with a protectionist China and in doing so undermines the long-term economic strength and security of the EU.

As a result, Chinese firms have acquired a stake in strategic, high-tech sectors of the EU economy such as transportation, communication, and energy. “The CCP’s own policies and official statements make it clear that it perceives the expansion of Chinese technology companies as a crucial component of its wider project of ideological and geopolitical expansion, and that they are not purely commercial actors.”

A prime target has been acquiring interest in the operation of European ports. By 2018, Chinese companies had acquired “at least 10 percent of all equity in ports in Europe with deals inked in Greece, Spain, Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium”. 


These Chinese companies operate under Article 7 of China’s National Intelligence Law of 2017, “any organization or citizen shall support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work in accordance with the law, and are, in fact, espionage agents of the Chinese Communist Party.


As Eyal Pinko, maritime cybersecurity and intelligence expert at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, observed, “Chinese port operators could closely monitor the movement of US and NATO warships, gather information about their maintenance operations and have access to sensitive systems and equipment through interception of electromagnetic signals, intelligence-gathering by use of electronic sensors, visual and human intelligence.”

Through such acquistions, China’s grand strategy of “tianxia” employs what Dr. Edward Lutwack has termed “geo-economics” – “market penetration supported by the state, replaces military bases and garrisons on foreign soil as well as diplomatic influence.”


China is turning Clausewitz’s famous passage on its head to read: “Politics is the continuation of war by other means.”

“Beijing first began to realize (from around 2010 onwards) that an EU ‘strategic partnership’ did not automatically mean that Brussels would lift the arms embargo it imposed on China following the ordering of the PLA into the crowds on Tiananmen Square in 1989. In addition, when the EU chose not to acknowledge China’s Market Economy Status (MES), Beijing’s policymakers decided to counteract EU policies by dealing with individual EU member states in need of foreign investments and infrastructure development investments.”

Through geo-economics Beijing endeavors to split the EU in order to replace its quality and trading standards with those which conform to Chinese values. In pursuit of this objective, Beijing created the 16+1 group consisting of China and 16 central and east European states of the EU, which it treats as a separate bloc from the EU.

The inability to defend its vital interests beginning with maintaining its unity makes the EU look more and more like a Chinese strategic support state“…insuring China has the ability and resources to guide the actions of the country [in this case the EU] so that they fit into [China’s] strategic needs.”

“Indeed, over recent years, China has been successfully taking advantage of EU disunity and the willingness of some member states to define and ‘adjust’ their policies towards China according to the amount of Chinese investments they could receive. For example…in June 2017, Greece blocked the unanimous adoption of a joint EU statement on human rights in China, while in March of the same year, Hungary prevented the EU from adding its name to a joint letter expressing concern about a report of lawyers in China being illegally detained and tortured. By coincidence, both Hungary and Greece have been recipients of large-scale Chinese investments over recent years.”

Driving China’s policy -- economic, political, and military -- toward an acquiescing EU is the dictum of Sun Tzu, China’s ancient military strategist: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Should Beijing invade Taiwan, the possibility China could resort to war to acquire other “disputed” territories becomes more likely.

In the past two years, China state media has claimed that all of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, most of Tajikistan, portions of India and Bhutan, as well as Russia’s Pacific Maritime provinces rightfully belong to China.

“On July 8, 2013, the pro-PRC Chinese-language newspaper, Wenweipo, published an article titled ‘Six Wars China Is Sure to Fight In the Next 50 Years. The anticipated six wars are all irredentist in purpose — the reclaiming of what Chinese believe to be national territories lost since Imperial China was defeated by the Brits in the Opium War of 1840-42…

The 1st War: Unification of Taiwan (Year 2020 to 2025)…

The 2nd War: Reconquest of Spratly Islands (Year 2025 to 2030)…

The 3rd War: Reconquest of Southern Tibet [India’s Northeast Territory] (Year 2035 to 2040)

The 4th War: Reconquest of Diaoyu and Ryukyu Islands [Japanese territory] (Year 2040 to 2045).

The 5th War: Unification of Outer Mongolia (Year 2045 to 2050)…

The 6th War: Taking back of lands lost to Russia (Year 2055 to 2060).”

Beijing’s increasing inflammatory statements and provocative acts, militarily and diplomatically, against Taiwan suggest the timeframe given by Wenweipo for the first war of Chinese irredentism may be approaching.

Even if Brussels wished to help Taiwan, the EU possesses no powers, militarily, economically, or politically, that it can deploy to restrain Chinese aggression. Taiwan’s defense, therefore, depends on the U.S., either acting alone or in alliance with Japan, Australia, and India.

The question for the EU raised by China’s threat to Taiwan is what actions will Brussels take to defend the EU and its vital interests from Beijing’s geo-economic warfare. Or will Beijing’s seizure of Taiwan portend an eventual transformation of the EU into an economic colony of China?

Starting from here, the way back is difficult – and costly. Immediate steps which could be taken are :


  1. 1.Reacquire full equity in all European ports. EU in, China out.
  2. 2.Eliminate Chinese high tech companies from supplying or operating communication systems in EU. (Beijing restricts non - Chinese high tech companies operating in China already.)
  3. 3.Withdraw EU member states from the Belt and Road Initiative.
  4. 4.Enter into treaties of Friendship and Support with those Middle East countries where the USA is currently deployed. (Develop plans to take over their roles in regional peacekeeping and stability to enable the USA to quickly move capabilities East in a crisis. The UK’s bases in the Middle East are intended for this purpose.)

Joseph E Fallon is a Senior Research Associate for the U K Defence Forum.

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