George Soros worries that the pursuit of business is threatening the values on which the European Union was founded

George Soros worries that the pursuit of business is threatening the values on which the European Union was founded

By George Soros*

Neither the European public nor European political and business leaders fully understand the threat presented by Xi Jinping’s China. Although Xi is a dictator who is using cutting-edge technology in an effort to impose total control on Chinese society, Europeans regard China primarily as an important business partner. They fail to appreciate that since Xi became president and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC), he has established a regime whose guiding principles are diametrically opposed to the values on which the European Union was founded.

The rush to embrace Xi is greater in Britain, which is in the process of separating itself from the EU, than in the EU itself. Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to distance the United Kingdom from the EU as much as possible and to build a free-market economy that is unconstrained by EU regulations. He is unlikely to succeed, because the EU is prepared to take countermeasures against the type of deregulation that Johnson’s government seems to have in mind. But in the meantime, Britain is eyeing China as a potential partner, in the hope of reestablishing the partnership that former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was building between 2010 and 2016.

The Trump administration, as distinct from US President Donald Trump personally, has done much better in managing its ties with China. It developed a bipartisan policy that declared China to be a strategic rival and put tech giant Huawei and several other Chinese companies on the so-called Entity List, which forbids US companies to trade with them without government permission.

Only one person can violate this rule with impunity: Trump himself. Unfortunately, he appears to be doing just that by putting Huawei on the bargaining table with Xi. Since May 2019, when the United States placed it on the Entity List, the Department of Commerce has granted Huawei several three-month exemptions in order to prevent undue hardship for the company’s US components suppliers.

Huawei is a very unusual – and in some ways unique – company. Its founder, Ren Zhengfei, received his technical education in part as a member of the People’s Liberation Army engineering corps, and the PLA became one of his first major customers. At the time of Huawei’s founding in 1987, all of China’s technology was imported from abroad, and Ren’s goal was to reverse engineer foreign technologies with local researchers. He has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

By 1993, Huawei launched the most powerful telephone switch available in China. Subsequently, it received a key contract from the PLA to build the first national telecommunications network. It then benefited from the government’s policy, adopted in 1996, for nurturing domestic telecommunications manufacturers, which also meant keeping foreign competitors out. By 2005 Huawei’s exports exceeded its domestic sales. In 2010, Huawei was included in Fortune magazine’s global list of the 500 largest companies.

After Xi came to power, Huawei lost whatever autonomy it may have enjoyed. Like every other Chinese company, it must follow the CPC’s orders. Until 2017, this remained an implicit understanding; with the adoption of the National Intelligence Law that year, it became a formal obligation.

Soon after that, a Huawei employee was involved in a spying scandal in Poland, and the company has also been accused of other cases of espionage. But spying is not the greatest danger for Europe. Making Europe’s most critical infrastructure dependent on Chinese technology means opening the door to blackmail and sabotage.

It is clear to me that under Xi, China poses a threat to the values on which the EU was founded. Apparently, this is not clear to the leaders of EU member states, nor to the leaders of industry, particularly in Germany.

The EU faces a tremendous challenge: the silent pro-European majority has spoken, saying that their primary concern is climate change, but the member states are fighting with one another over the budget and are more focused on appeasing Xi than with maintaining the transatlantic relationship.

Instead of fighting a losing battle against Huawei’s dominance in the 5G market, the US and the EU, or the EU alone, ought to cooperate in building up Ericsson and Nokia as viable competitors.

Xi will meet the heads of state and government of the 27 EU member states at the EU-China summit in Leipzig in September. Europeans need to understand that this will hand him a much-needed political victory unless he is held accountable for, and questioned about, his failure to uphold human rights, particularly in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong.

Only the Chinese political leadership can decide Xi’s future. The harm caused by his mishandling of the coronavirus outbreak has become so visible that the Chinese public, and even the Politburo, must recognize it. The EU should not knowingly facilitate his political survival.


*George Soros, Founder and Chair of the Open Society Foundations, is the author, most recently, of In Defense of Open Society (Public Affairs, 2019).  Copyright 2020 Project Syndicate, here with permission.

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17 Comments

Written by Xing, our favourite reader?

Where is he? Why isn't he here defending his beloved authoritarian bully boys?

My how things have developed since Marco Polo blundered eastward. Churchill called Russia a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma, but that fits China too, indeed on an even greater scale if you like. Since the overturn of Mao, the visits of the like of President Nixon, the change to embrace the West has been rapid and remarkable. Too much, too soon? But at the end of the day, the Chinese will always one thinks, believe in an ability to retreat into that vast inscrutable, impenetrable territory and history that surrounds and insulates them, and shut up shop. Maybe in terms of the return of populism and nationalism, that might just help everybody else to look after their own back yard first, simply speaking of course. Opportunity to pontificate appreciated!

80's onward engagement with china was a sensible approach to trying to get them to liberalise and embrace freedom - increasing their prosperity, happiness and reducing the threat they posed to the world. The party saw advantage in being the lords of wealthier subjects as it improved their lifestyles massively. There was real hope up until 2010 ish that they would slowly move towards being Hong Kong or Singapore - effectively western. Unfortunately the Party has decided it likes privilege and power too much to continue along that path and has instead turned backwards to a more repressive 1984 style governance. The world needs to disengage with them now until they halt the slide towards greater evil.

If you are chinese living in China then anything that goes wrong is the fault of wicked foreigners whereas if you are non-chinese and living in NZ then when things go wrong lets blame the chinese because they are wicked foreigners with ways we cannot understand. Both camps are right occasionally.

Chinese have no option but to blame foreigners. They face retribution if they dare question the authorities

Repeatedly says that China is opposed to the values on which the European Union was founded, doesn't elaborate on what he thinks those values are. This is a propaganda piece, nothing more.

The EU value in theory is democracy devolved as far as possible. Multiple states each with its own head of state and elected political party whose head becomes prime minister (or equivalent) and the EU itself has nobody of significant ceremonial power (had to check wikipedia for: the President of the European Commission is Ursula von der Leyen and the President of the European Council is Charles Michel). Whereas China's political system is not very different from 10th century England or Scotland - a king with absolute power; there for life; ruling by force; serious problems with succession.

Sure - what I am saying is that this opinion piece says none of that. It leaves the reader to fill in the blanks with whatever they think European values are, which naturally leads to the reader agreeing with the writers assertion that China is opposed to them. The writer, by not even defining European values, then doesn't have to elaborate on how China is opposed to them. He can merely make the claim and leave the reader to fill in the blanks.

I'm no fan of China's government, I'm just pointing out that this is a very poorly written article clearly designed to influence the reader to agree with the premise.

Pretty obvious what those values are.
Democracy. Liberalism. Freedom.

See my other comment. What I'm saying is that writer is leaving the reader to fill in the blanks (as you have), and not presenting any actual arguments to make his case. If you boil this opinion piece down, all he says is "China bad - EU good" - there is nothing of substance or argument in this piece.

George Soros does not want Huawei to do business with the EU. Good job. Not that I think Soros is a good person by any means. I find his reputation quite scary, still... can see what he means here.

'It is clear to me that under Xi, China poses a threat to the values on which the EU was founded. Apparently, this is not clear to the leaders of EU member states, nor to the leaders of industry, particularly in Germany.'

Neither does this appear clear to Aus or NZ, or the editors of this website, who seem to view China in very benign ways.
Great article.

Dear oh dear, George. The reason the EU leaders don't see the threat is because they are hell-bent in copying the CCP in creating a Mandarin superstate. Bugger democracy, the bureaucrats know best. The image of the EU as a wonderful thing is completely misleading. They look down on the masses as untrustworthy and backward. The masses have to be taught what to think. The EU bureaucracy have repeatedly overturned referenda and installed puppet governments across Southern Europe, having managed to create 25% unemployment in multiple countries. The EU stands on a cliff edge. The Euro is dying, capital is fleeing to the US. No one will willingly buy their Eurobonds. Chaos is engulfing them.

https://www.armstrongeconomics.com/product/the-fate-of-europe-report/

Maybe.
They also 'don't see the threat' because they have sold their souls to Chinese money....sound familiar?

Brexit. God bless ‘em then. Priestly, the Waughs, take a bow!

Albeit for some of it's flaw, the British has spread the idea of commonwealth. EU will soon learn that the China deal MO behind it, are always the same... shifting their people bases, polarised opinion, cloud judgement, bribe the elites, to ... yes, procure land, more land then move their agents there. This MO has been proven the past 5000yrs so why change? - Like the Canty academic says, it's United Front works in progress...The Chinese business practices are all pointed to the same pattern all over the world. Remember, world only marvelling to the rich of Chinese 350millions (some privileged to be on these site).. but ask what the status of other 1.3billions of them. Just remember; What do China/Chinese care about the world/others?.. go figure.