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Why Western Democracies Should Band Together To Curb China's Influence


Western democracies are trying to curb China's influence. But is it working? Longtime journalist Edward Lucas says it's not.

EDWARD LUCAS: We don't yet have a strategy. We have individual countries trying to do individual things. And we have NATO beginning to wake up to the idea that China is an adversary and the EU saying that China is a strategic rival. But what we don't have is a coordinated effort to say to the Chinese, these are the lines in the sand. This is what you can do. And this is what you, more importantly, can't do.

KING: In a recent paper for his think tank, the Center for European Policy Analysis, which was published in Foreign Policy magazine, Lucas argues for the need to build a coalition. He talked to our co-host, Steve.

LUCAS: I think the key point here is about economic weight, that if you look at China in a one-on-one contest, it's a daunting adversary, rival. But if you put the countries of the so-called West together, you know - Japan, Australia, the European Union, the countries of NATO, North America and all their allies elsewhere - then you've also got a billion and a bit people. You've got a rather bigger economic GDP. And you've got a chance of setting some rules. Now, we won't get everybody on side for everything. But we could say, for example, to the Chinese, if you pick on Australia, as they're doing at the moment, we, as Australia's friends, will take steps to blunt the effect of your pressure on Australia.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: For those who don't know, what is it that China is doing to Australia right now? And what could the rest of the world do about it?

LUCAS: China has put Australia under a huge economic squeeze with big sanctions on the most important Australian exports to China. And that's causing real economic pain in Australia. And the aim is to punish the Australians, partly to punish them for demanding an independent international inquiry into the source of the pandemic, but more broadly to punish Australia for being a hotbed of criticism of the Chinese Communist Party. And they issued a 14-point document to the Australian media saying these are the mistakes that Australia has to correct. And they included things like allowing criticism of China in the political system, criticism of China in the universities, criticism of China in the think tanks, criticism of China in other places.

INSKEEP: Now, before we get to what you can do about that, let me just underline this. If you're inside China, if you're talking with people who live in China, they will know that certain topics are sensitive topics that can't be discussed or can't be discussed a certain way. I think you're telling me that China is now trying to export that to its trading partners.

LUCAS: China wants to control the discussion of China all over the world, not just in China. Anyone doing anything about China, the Chinese Communist Party says this is our business. And if we don't like it, we're going to intervene. So for example, we have an annual street party in the city of London, the so-called Lord Mayor's Show. Under Chinese pressure, they excluded Taiwan for no reason other than the Chinese didn't like it. We have demonstrations here in London. The police move them out of the way if there's a Chinese leader visiting. We've seen the same happening in universities in Canada, in Australia. We've seen pressure put on in the United States.

INSKEEP: So suppose there was a more united coalition of democracies that wanted to push back on that specific thing and it was Australia being bullied, as seems to be happening now as you describe, what could they do if they were working together?

LUCAS: I think the obvious thing to do would be to say we will buy the Australian wine. And I've actually launched a campaign called #FreedomWine to encourage people to do this on an individual basis. But the European Union, for example, could reduce its tariffs on Australian wine. The United States could reduce its tariffs on Australian wine. And one would do that to an extent that the Australian wine producers were able, perhaps, not to sell all their wine elsewhere, but at least it would make the Chinese think that tactic didn't really work.

INSKEEP: Do other large democracies still regard the United States as a reliable partner?

LUCAS: If you don't like the United States, you can try looking to the moon or to Mars and try and find other Democratic allies, but you won't find them. In the end, we have to deal with the United States that we have, not the - some ideal United States that exists in a parallel universe. So I think it'll be a lot easier under the Biden administration than it was under the Trump administration because, for example - you know, just take one example - the European Union is an enormously important bloc of 500 million people and a 20 trillion GDP, more or less. And Donald Trump referred to it as an enemy.

And that's not the great - best basis of building an alliance. And fundamentally, this is not a problem of means. It's not that the Chinese are winning because they're so much stronger than us. They're winning because they're better organized than us. They're more ruthless than we are. They're more determined. And the lack of determination, willpower and coordination lies with us. We can fix that, we just have to want to.

INSKEEP: Edward Lucas, thank you very much. It's a pleasure talking with you.

LUCAS: It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.


KING: Edward Lucas is with the Center for European Policy Analysis.

(SOUNDBITE OF AETHER AND PENSEES' "MORFIN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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