European allies need to stop underestimating China when considering sensitive economic partnerships, a U.S. official warned Thursday in a display of disagreement with Europe over how to counter the communist power.
“You cannot look at these as purely economically driven projects,” Julia Fisher, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Europe and the European Union, told an audience of military and diplomatic officials. “That’s not what drives folks in the Kremlin, and it’s not what drives folks in Beijing.”
Fisher spoke to a gathering of officials at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. More than 80% of attendees agreed in a morning poll that Russia and China pose “the greatest challenge to European security today,” outstripping terrorism, immigration, and defense spending dispute, but officials at the event disagreed about how to respond to those challenges, especially from China.
“With China, what we need is engagement,” Pedro Serrano, a deputy secretary general at the European External Action Service, said at the event, the EU & Foreign Policy Defense Forum 2019. “China is a great country. It’s going to continue to develop strongly, and what we have to see is how we can help China channel its energies in order that it develops in a way that will actually help the rest of the world.”
Serrano stressed “engagement” in response to a question about “deterring China” in light of Fisher’s warnings. European officials refused to join a U.S. effort to condemn China’s Belt and Road Initiative earlier this year, even though the U.S. regards the infrastructure program as a scheme to gain control of key ports and railways around the world.
“The challenges of what they are trying to do with infrastructure — not just in Europe, but globally — is something that we’ve got to be incredibly serious about,” Fisher said. “It is about who is going to control these incredibly critical pieces of our infrastructure going forward.”