Despite this decline, Eastern European governments must not forget Beijing’s long-term ambitions. As soon as China emerges from its post-pandemic nadir and bolsters its production, its tentacular investments will swiftly recommence. The Madrid Summit’s recognition of coercive Chinese activities is an indication that European countries have woken up from their passive acceptance of the CCP’s financial penetration. Washington cannot miss this opportunity.
Rather than calling it a “pivot” to Asia, which implies subtracting significance from another region of the world, American policymakers should emphasize that they are splitting their attention between multiple continents, for China’s regional projects are deeply interconnected. The reason why Beijing has ventured so far into Africa is that the CCP is confident it can link its progress there to its gains in Europe.
The problem is that the United States cannot expect the African and Latin American countries already integrated into China’s BRI to defend Taiwan in whatever shape or form—whether it be through a United Nations vote or simply by providing financial support. Eswatini is the only African country that still recognizes Taiwan as independent from the People’s Republic of China. Many European countries, on the other hand, have not buckled to Beijing’s financial sabotage. Some, however, are on the brink of being entangled in a complicated dependence that will prevent them from reacting to an invasion.
The United States must rebuild ties with these European countries, especially those that would come to its defense through NATO’s Article V provision. Washington must engage in productive, cooperative dialogue with reticent allies to demonstrate the advantages of partnering with a bastion of democracy and free enterprise rather than an authoritarian country. American policymakers must arm themselves with data highlighting the one-sided nature of Chinese infrastructure, maritime, and manufacturing investments while continuing to shed light on the CCP’s domestic surveillance program.
To avoid hypocrisy, this will require the United States to address Chinese FDI within its own borders and to stick with mutually beneficial financial accords. Defending Taiwan must absolutely not be a precondition for Washington to reinforce its alliances—this should be the natural end result of European countries resisting China’s indirect pecuniary encroachment. By splitting its attention between the Indo-Pacific and the European continent while monitoring key threats in other regions of the world, such as the escalating tension in the Middle East, Washington will succeed in focusing on Asia without leaving anyone behind.
Axel de Vernou is a rising sophomore studying Global Affairs at Yale University. He is currently interning at the Hudson Institute.