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Why is China's Hold on Europe so Strong?

Europe struggles to find its footing amid fierce competition between the US and China. Now, Huawei is building a massive 5g equipment factory in Strasbourg.



Dominique Platz, the Director of Economic Development of the Agglomeration Community of Haguenau, explains his plans at the site of the proposed Huawei plant in the northern suburbs of Strasbourg, eastern France. (© Sankei by Mina Mitsui)

As the G7 Hiroshima Summit draws near, it remains to be seen whether the democratic alliance can effectively communicate a powerful message to China and Russia. My time spent in Strasbourg, in eastern France, has given me a glimpse of the challenges involved in doing so. Strasbourg is a city located near the German-French border, known as the birthplace of European integration. In its outskirts, Huawei started building a huge factory in April. It will be the Chinese telecom giant's first manufacturing plant in Europe

Just a 15-minute drive from the European Parliament, this will become a production base for fifth-generation (5G) infrastructure equipment.

When I went to the construction site, bulldozers were roaring as they cleared the grasslands. The site has an area 1.7 times that of Tokyo Dome and the investment amount is €200 million EUR (about $221 million USD). Dominique Platz, the Director of Economic Development of the Agglomeration Community of Haguenau, guided me through the site. He explained that the factory will begin operations in two years, and employees will come from China as well. He also mentioned that related companies are likely to gather in the area.

Huawei Looms Over Europe

Since 2018, Huawei has become a symbol of the US-China conflict. In the European Union, concerns about security have led to moves to exclude the company from the 5G network. France has also enacted new telecommunications regulations. When I asked Mr Platz whether it was permissible to build a 5G factory in such a situation, he laughed and said, "The regulations apply to the backbone network. The government has never put a stop to the factory plan. International companies navigate through various regulations in order to survive."

Indeed, Huawei has survived tenaciously in the EU. According to a survey by a private institution in December 2022, the entry rate of Chinese companies — with Huawei at the forefront — into 5G wireless networks reached 17% in France, 59% in Germany, and 72% in the Netherlands. While the US seeks to exclude Chinese companies from the telecommunications market, Europe is taking a stance of coexisting while avoiding risks.

When French President Emmanuel Macron stated in an interview in April that Europe should not be "followers" of the United States regarding Taiwan, it caused unrest in Europe. Perhaps it was because he revealed the true feelings of Europe that no one had dared to touch upon.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki immediately emphasized the bond with the US and expressed discomfort with Macron's comments. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, who visited Beijing, made a strong statement that the unilateral change in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait is "unacceptable." However, no country has mentioned what Europe will do in the event of a Taiwan contingency.

A signboard of Huawei, a Chinese telecom giant, in Shanghai, China, in September 2022. (© Reuters via Kyodo)

The EU's Economic Reliance on China

The US is engaging in fierce competition with China in all aspects, including economics, military, and technology, in a bid to maintain its position as the sole superpower. The EU, on the other hand, does not share the same sense of urgency. After all, it cannot survive without economic ties with China. While relying on the US-EU alliance to counter the threat of Russia, the EU does not necessarily align with America's China policy.

When I asked a member of the French National Assembly about Huawei, he replied, "The United States is the same in terms of threat." He claimed that even major American IT companies like Google and Amazon are equally dangerous in terms of personal information leakage. But Europe's stance of trying to have the best of both worlds between the US and China is very precarious.

China is launching a fierce offensive by trying to convince an already unstable Europe that America's push for decoupling from China will undermine stability.

The G7 Hiroshima Summit must serve as a platform for the seven participating countries to transcend geopolitical interests and engage in a candid and earnest dialogue about the meaning of unity in the democratic world.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Mina Mitsui

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