Saturday, 15 June, 2024

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Macron is ready to betray democracy in Taiwan to further the EU’s global pretensions


Emmanuel Macron has just reminded us why we voted to leave the EU. On his way back from meeting Xi Jinping in Beijing, the diminutive énarque declared that Brussels should stop following the American line on Taiwan. Rather than behaving as a vassal, Macron told Les Echos, the EU should establish itself as the world’s troisième pôle.

It was a revealing choice of phrase. As a matter of geographical fact, there can be only two poles. Most Britons take it for granted that, if it comes to a choice between democratic America and autocratic China, we stand with America. Whatever our differences, we are united by our attachment to human rights, accountable government and the rule of law. Fracturing the free world for the sake of making some point about Europe’s “strategic autonomy” strikes us as vain, self-indulgent and dangerous.

France’s president sees things very differently. “As Europeans, our chief concern is unity,” he asserts loftily. “The Chinese have the same concern; and Taiwan, from their point of view, is a component part.”

This is an irresponsible thing to say at any time. But to pronounce those words even as Red Chinese forces were sealing Taiwan off, even as Xi Jinping was telling his troops to prepare for “real combat”, is downright incendiary.

If nothing else, Macron has demonstrated beyond doubt that Australia was right to ditch its order for French nuclear submarines and form the Aukus alliance. Australia, which China subjected to a range of harsh economic sanctions after it called for an investigation into the origins of Covid, needs dependable allies.

It might be argued, in Macron’s defence, that he is playing good cop to America’s bad cop, aiming to draw Xi into a more helpful position vis-à-vis Russia. In his book Overreach, Owen Matthews suggests that back channels between France and China were employed to agree parameters for the Ukraine conflict. For example, the reversal of the decision to send Polish aircraft to Kyiv in the early days of the war was supposedly part of a Chinese-brokered deal under which Russia agreed, in return, not to use tactical nuclear weapons.

It is not wrong in principle for Macron to talk to nasty regimes. But it is wrong – morally, intellectually and strategically – to choose this moment to throw Taiwan under the bus. Macron risks repeating the mistake he made when he danced attendance on Putin in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine. Dictators are very good at manipulating the vanity of elected politicians, and Xi shows no sign of shifting his stance in response to Macron’s appeals.

Let’s not lose sight of what China is doing. We in the West might appreciate Taiwan’s embrace of political pluralism, but Beijing’s gerontocrats hate it. A free China on their doorstep, a China that shares their language and culture, but rejects their totalitarianism, undermines their legitimacy. If liberal democracy works in Taiwan, it can hardly be said to be a Western perversion, incompatible with Confucian culture. Taiwan, after all, is the home not only of Confucian culture, but of the Confucian family, whose head, the 79th direct-line descendant of the sage, is one of its leading citizens.

Since the 1990s, Taiwan has become an open society in which everyone is equal before the law. As it has become freer, it has become richer. Of course it has: security of contract encourages investment and innovation. For Beijing’s Leninist leaders, Taiwan’s prosperity is not just an insult, it is a menace. Their authority rests on the idea that collectivism is both more authentically Chinese and more efficient than decadent American liberalism. Taiwan makes a nonsense of that claim.

You could argue that none of this has anything to do with us. We might sympathise with the Taiwanese, but why should we be drawn into a quarrel with a nuclear-armed superpower on their behalf?

That question goes to the root of the difference between the EU’s foreign policy and the Anglosphere’s. To put it at its simplest, the EU tends to emphasise stability over liberty, while the Anglosphere tends to do the reverse.

Think of all the issues, over the years, where Washington and Brussels have fallen out: sanctions on Cuba; the Iran nuclear deal; the campaign against Saddam Hussein; support for Israel. Again and again, we see the US (often backed by the other English-speaking democracies) ready to confront illiberal regimes, while the EU prefers to hold its nose and deal with them.

It shouldn’t surprise us. The US was born in a popular revolt against a remote monarchy. Democracy is in its DNA. The EU, by contrast, was born in revulsion against the Second World War and the plebiscitary democracy that had preceded it. Its structures were deliberately designed to constrain populism, to ensure that public opinion would be moderated by a caste of unelected bureaucrats.

When he visits Beijing, a Brussels mandarin feels quite at home. Here, too, is a system run by clever men (and some clever women) who owe their positions not to any flummery involving ballot boxes, but to exams. China’s yearning for order and stability, its fondness for five-year plans, its desire, as Macron reminds us, for political unity – all these things are comfortingly familiar.

As for the notion of a European “third way” or “special path”, it is by no means new. It traces its origins back to the Second World War, when pro-Axis governments portrayed Europe as an oasis of civilisation between, on the one hand, the barbarism of Anglo-Saxon jungle capitalism and, on the other, the tyranny of Soviet communism. Typical is a Vichyite image from 1942, which shows France, Germany, Italy and others as chicks, huddled safely under the wings of a hen labelled Notre Mère l’Europe, while neutral Sweden and Switzerland look on, tempted, and Britain totters off grumpily into an American trap.

Obviously, modern European democracies are nothing like those quisling regimes. Their attachment to the rule of law is not in doubt. My point is simply that Britain has always been an outlier in its readiness to identify with the other English-speaking nations. Successive French leaders have supported European integration precisely because they see it as a counterweight to the United States.

And not just French leaders. Charles Michel, the president of the European Council (one of the EU’s seven presidents), tells us that many of the EU’s heads of government “think like Emmanuel Macron”. The Poles and the Balts might not like it, but the EU as a whole is moving towards “strategic autonomy”.

Macron reminded Les Echos that that project has advanced enormously over the past five years, with common EU policies on telephone components, defence procurement, hydrogen, raw materials and much else. “We’ve won the battle in Gramscian terms, if I can put it that way.”

Indeed so. Our own debate remains weirdly stuck in 2016. British commentators who profess to love Brussels show remarkably little curiosity about what is going on there. In the years since our referendum, the EU has continued to integrate, notably in the fields of taxation, defence and industrial policy. Macron boasts that Brussels is putting together its own version of America’s disastrous Inflation Reduction Act – a protectionist racket, which freezes out foreign competition in the name of environmentalism. This was precisely the kind of fortress Europe thinking that drove many of us to vote Leave.

Let me put it at its starkest. For more than a decade, authoritarianism has been advancing globally – a reversal of the pattern of the previous 70 years. Leading that authoritarian advance is China, which has fused spyware, facial-recognition technology and geolocation to create a terrifying panopticon state.

As good Leninists, Chinese leaders want to export their system, drawing poorer Asian and African states into a network of debt and dependency, building anti-Western alliances.

“There are changes happening, the likes of which we haven’t seen for 100 years,” Xi Jinping told Putin last month. “We are driving those changes.”

Almost every contiguous country, from India to Vietnam, has felt the weight of Chinese expansionism. But the chief target is Taiwan, whose assimilation would be a hammer blow to freedom, more devastating than anything since the crushing of the Warsaw rising in 1944.

Euro-integrationists might see all this as secondary. They might be more interested in selling Volkswagens to Shanghai, thumbing their noses at America or integrating their foreign policy as an end in itself. But we, as a country, must hold ourselves to a higher standard.

Credit: Yahoo News

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