Polish think tank: EU should beware of Sino-Russian alliance

The Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) argues that the EU needs to watch out for China and Russia joining forces.

The PISM analysis “How China and Russia Could Join Forces Against the European Union” is a look at how the growing rapprochement between China and Russia is a threat to the EU as a whole.

No longer adversaries

Russia and China were once great adversaries, but no longer. They are increasingly cooperating and their alliance “could directly affect and threaten the EU’s global agenda, its political, economic and social interests, and the functioning of the Union as a whole and its Member States.”

The PISM report acknowledges that neither China nor Russia want to destroy the EU. But they do wish to weaken it and to gain influence within EU structures and also within the member states.

Convergence of interests gradual

In the short term they are likely to pursue divergent approaches. China wants to use the EU as a countervailing influence to the US. Russia wants to improve and enhance its relations with some individual member states. Both are more focused on countering US power than on confrontation with the EU.

Tools for applying pressure

However, this in no way closes the door on “tactical cooperation between the Russian and Chinese governments, information exchange, and coordination of diplomatic and information-sphere activities”. They are also likely to use “direct coordinated economic pressure” such as Russia limiting gas exports to the EU and China limiting exports of active pharmaceutical ingredients.

In terms of softer power both China and Russia have proved that they are adept at launching information campaigns to influence EU populations and decision makers. “There is some evidence of this regarding the coronavirus outbreak, with Russian and Chinese-linked entities spreading similar stories blaming the U.S. as the origin of SARS-CoV-2 and accusations that the EU has failed to respond adequately to the pandemic. China has already launched a massive propaganda campaign to improve its image after missteps in delaying and covering up information about the virus.”

PISM feel that at this stage it is least likely “for China and Russia to take coordinated military action against European and U.S. interests in Europe and Asia” or to “coordinate their military and economic presence in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa to fuel regional instability and create conditions for a new migration crisis, creating a wave of migrants to the EU”.

Need for vigilance, upholding international law and using market access as leverage

The report recommends greater vigilance from EU member state counterintelligence services. Both Russia and China may well move from recruiting “fringe forces” and begin recruiting to a greater extent among business and political elites. The objective here is likely to be concentrated on undermining Euro-atlantic ties.

PISM feels that China’s aspiration for increasing trade with the EU gives the latter some leverage. It should not work with Russia to undermine China or vice versa as that undermines its normative and moral power in the world. Sanctions on Russian should remain and should be imposed on China if it breaks international law.

Finally the Polish analysts feel that “market access should be treated as the main EU instrument in its policy towards Russia and China. The EU should adopt and consequently execute protective measures that will allow the bloc to assess and minimize the risk of engaging with Chinese and Russian businesses but not by default exclude them from the European market.”

The report makes interesting reading at a time when conflict between China and the US is intensifying as the US prepares to sue China over the COVID-19 pandemic. The EU has huge problems not only with the Coronavirus, but also with its own internal workings with Schengen suspended, arguments over debt mutualisation and likely pressure on the Euro.

Read the whole report here.