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The Trade and Tech Council is a way to unify against China — unless Europe derails it

Charles Michel
AP Photo/Olivier Matthys, Pool
European Council President Charles Michel arrives to meet with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and, via video-conference, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Chinese President Xi Jinping, during an EU-China summit in Brussels on April 1, 2022. China says president and ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping was holding talks on Dec. 1, 2022, with visiting Michel in Beijing, amid frictions over trade, Russia and Taiwan.

For eight decades, the United States and its European allies have worked side by side to protect their common security interests against threats from Russia. But a rising and emboldened China now presents a powerful “triple threat” to the West, endangering our collective national security, our economic prosperity, and our values. Unfortunately, the United States and the European Union (EU) see this threat from China very differently. But this week’s Trade and Tech Council (TTC) meeting offers a unique opportunity to align the strategies of the United States and the EU more closely when it comes to China.

The Dec. 5 gathering will be the third U.S.-EU TTC meeting and the first since the release of the Biden administration’s National Security Strategy (NSS) that focuses on China, rather than Russia or terrorism, as a primary national security challenge. At the TTC, the United States will again try to convince the EU of the urgency surrounding the China threat, and the need for unified Western trade and technology strategies to maintain our competitive edge against the communist power. It is critical that Europe meet this moment and align with the United States.

American policymakers on both sides of the aisle have been vocal about the long-term strategic threat posed by China. As part of a bipartisan strategy to maintain a technological advantage against Beijing, the United States has sought to encourage allies and partners to commit to the promotion of Western-style technology, while also reducing dependence on Chinese-owned technology.

At the same time, the EU has shown no signs of slowing down implementation of a series of proposals aimed at boosting its domestic tech sector through policies that disproportionately target the leading U.S. tech companies with punitive actions. While European policymakers downplay how the EU’s “digital sovereignty” agenda often exempts Chinese companies from similar scrutiny, leading experts have expressed concern that rather than promoting EU companies (as is the intent), such heavy-handed regulation instead will give an advantage to authoritarian regimes such as China, who are eager to leverage their technology companies as a tool to strengthen their influence across the globe. In fact, increased Western dependence on Chinese technology and supply chains is a specific stated strategy of President Xi Jinping. 

European voters, however, understand that their leaders are out-of-step on these issues. A recent poll found that voters on both sides of the Atlantic see China and Russia as economic and security threats that must be checked urgently. In fact, large majorities of European voters agreed that the growing technological influence of China and Russia is a threat to their country’s national security (72 percent) and their economy (70 percent). Eighty percent said they were alarmed by the prospect of “foreign countries gaining a technological advantage over the United States and Europe.” The solution: 88 percent of European voters called for greater Western cooperation to balance China and Russia’s growing technological influence, up 9 points from the previous year.

If the United States does not push back when close allies in the EU pursue anti-U.S. policies, there is an increased likelihood that similar initiatives will be replicated by governments across the world. Countries including Turkey, India, and even Canada are already doing so. This ripple effect could fragment the open and free global internet in favor of the censored and firewalled internet model enforced by the Chinese Communist Party.

The U.S.-EU TTC provides a tactical opportunity to collaborate with our closest allies to ensure trade and technology policies pursued on both sides of the Atlantic don’t have unintended consequences for our collective national security, economy and democracy. The NSS is clear that when it comes to this effort, “technology is central to today’s geopolitical competition.” On Dec. 5, the U.S. government should ensure the EU’s short-sighted focus on regulation doesn’t undermine the national security imperative to out-compete China, because it matters greatly which side builds the future.

Joseph Dunford, a retired four-star Marine Corps general, was the 19th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2015 to 2019. Frances Townsend was the third U.S. Homeland Security Adviser from 2004 to 2008. Michael J. Morell was acting director and deputy director of the CIA from 2010 to 2013. They co-chair the American Edge Project of the National Security Advisory Board.

Tags China threat Joseph Dunford tech sector Trade and Tech Council

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