15:30 GMT07 August 2020
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    New Delhi (Sputnik): Leaders of the European Union and China are going to meet for a video-conference on 22 June amid mounting tensions between Beijing and Washington. Brussels has maintained it doesn’t want to get involved in a new Cold War with Beijing.

    US President Donald Trump confirmed earlier this week that the US will withdraw around 9,500 troops from Germany, after alleging that European countries do not pay enough to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

    According to the US president, Berlin has been “delinquent in their [defence] payments to NATO” and has not contributed enough to justify the current American troop presence in Europe.

    "Why should we be doing what we’re doing if they don’t pay,” he asked on 15 June during a roundtable discussion with administration officials. Trump's statement highlights the gap in current defence expenditure by NATO allies and the requirement to spend at least two percent of gross domestic product on defence.
    In this photo taken March 10, 2019, in Wesola,near Warsaw, central Poland, are seen Polish troops in combat gear during brief exercise with some other NATO forces marking 20 years since Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined the Western military alliance
    © AP Photo / Czarek Sokolowski
    In this photo taken March 10, 2019, in Wesola,near Warsaw, central Poland, are seen Polish troops in combat gear during brief exercise with some other NATO forces marking 20 years since Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined the Western military alliance

    The European Union is aware of the need to enhance defence and intelligence cooperation in the bloc while also upholding and defending its own interests and values amid the rising pressure to choose between Washington and Beijing amid the ongoing trade dispute between the two countries.

    This is evident from a statement made by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on 8 June; where he said the rise of China "fundamentally changed the balance of power in the world and had contributed to the economic and technological competition for hegemony".

    Brigadier Venkataraman Mahalingam (Retired), a security and strategic analyst, believes the EU is still dependent on the US for its security. However, he says, Trump’s views on NATO allies as ‘free riding’ on the US coupled with his ‘America first’ policy ignoring the interest of his allies, had irked the EU and its members.

    Looking towards the security risk from China, a recent memo to EU defence ministers suggested that the “EU’s intelligence arm should produce a classified threat assessment by the end of the year, on the basis of which it can decide on how to enhance its joint capabilities in the future, in areas ranging from peacekeeping to space and cybersecurity”.  

    Swaran Singh, Chairman, Center for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, says: “With the collapse of the former Soviet Union the shift from Western Europe-North America to Asia-Pacific had been further accelerated”.

    The European Union and China share a largely economic relationship as they are two of the biggest traders in the world, with Beijing being the EU's second-biggest trading partner after the United States. In the area of regional cooperation, many EU countries are part of China’s Road and Belt Initiative, for infrastructure development and investments.

    Noting that the EU is opposed to China ideologically, Brigadier Mahalingam states that the European style of diplomacy focuses on multilateralism and cooperation. “As I see it Europe is only exploring the possibilities of better relations and improved trade opportunities with China,” he says.

    Visitors walk under flags of European Union and China in front of The Tiananmen Gate in Beijing (File)
    © AP Photo / Andy Wong
    Visitors walk under flags of European Union and China in front of The Tiananmen Gate in Beijing (File)

    The trade relations seem more believable since China has not tried to build military bases like the European nations and the United States did during last century as their security architecture.

    Singh highlights Chinese investments in “port facilities... China has already found footholds from Djibouti to Australia but Europe has only allowed few ports to be refurbished or managed by Chinese companies purely for commercial purpose. This has also seen China emerging as an investor from Italy to Britain,” Singh says.

    China’s Aim to Increase Presence in Indian Ocean

    China has been increasing its presence in the Indian Ocean Region, and has specially leveraged the pandemic to expand its ‘Health Silk Road Initiative’ by sending aid to countries in the Indian Ocean Region. In geopolitics and maritime strategy, China has made island politics its hallmark with the situation in South China Sea.

    Brigadier Mahalingam says: “US’s inaction despite its security arrangements with Philippines, while China was reclaiming land and constructing military bases in the Scarborough Shoal to dominate the South China Sea (SCS) has created doubts in the minds of EU members on the reliability and dependability of US in the event of a tangible threat to their security”.

    He says this has created perception that has forced EU members to talk of alternatives for its security other than NATO and US’ security umbrella.

    It is pertinent to highlight that many European Union countries own islands in the Indian Ocean Region, like France’s strategically important La Reunion, Mayotte, and Europa.

    Since EU visualises threat from Russia, which has close relationship with China, Mahalingam dismisses scope of military presence in Europe “unless the geopolitical situation changes drastically in the region”. EU definitely would not like to jump from the ‘devil to the deep sea’, he says.

    Both Singh and Mahalingam reiterate that EU is looking out for an alternative may not have anything to do with China and there are no concerns for India.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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