Effective EU policy-making towards China is hampered by certain EU member states, like Greece, being too dependent on the East Asian country, Foreign Trade Minister Liesje Schreinemacher (VVD/Renew) stated in an interview.
Schreinemacher, who will temporarily take over the Foreign Minister position of designated EU Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra (CDA/EPP), was interviewed about Sino-Dutch relations as well as European dependency on Chinese resources by Dutch employers’ federation VNO-NCW.
When asked about the concerns of businesses regarding EU screening mechanisms for foreign investments, Schreinemacher pointed towards the Dutch Security test for investments, mergers and acquisitions (Vifo), which checks foreign influence in Dutch strategic sectors.
“Not every European member state has such a test yet. We want them to because otherwise, you get a waterbed effect: then investors go to those countries,” Schreinemacher stated.
“Take, for example the Greek port of Piraeus, which is owned by a Chinese state-owned company. That also makes an effective China policy more difficult in the European context because, in this case, Greece is dependent on China,” she added.
The Piraeus port, whose majority stakeholder is the Chinese shipping company Cosco Shipping, has often been perceived as a significant lever of influence for China in Europe, having been brought up at times when Greece blocked EU statements regarding the human rights situation in China.
Last year, Germany’s decision to grant Cosco a 25% minority stake in the port of Hamburg led to friction between the Scholz government and Brussels, with the EU Commission recommending putting the deal on ice to prevent further strategic vulnerabilities vis-à-vis China.
Schreinemacher added that, while monitoring foreign influence in strategic sectors is good, the Netherlands would nonetheless need to “remain an interesting country for investments from abroad, as they contribute to our innovation and competitiveness”.
The Dutch have positioned themselves as one of the more hawkish EU countries with regards to China, best exemplified by the government’s decision to implement export restrictions on crucial chipmaking technology from domestic businesses towards third countries ‐ a measure that, while not explicitly stated as such, is widely perceived to be mainly directed against China.
“If there are national security risks involved in exporting Dutch technology, we can also introduce an export licence requirement,” said Schreinemacher, adding that such measures need to be “proportional” given the economic and political consequences.
“The idea is not to use a large dragnet to catch all companies doing anything with quantum technology or chips and make them subject to such a licensing requirement. BUT: our national security weighs most heavily,” the minister emphasised.
Sino‐Dutch relations have deteriorated significantly over the past months, fueled largely by the aforementioned export restrictions and the designation of China as the “biggest threat” to Dutch security in a secret service report back in May.
Reducing dependency in Africa…
Despite the government’s precautionary measures and attempts to bolster Dutch strategic autonomy, Schreinemacher did not hide the fact that Europe nonetheless needs China in its bid for a green and carbon-free economy.
“We cannot become sustainable without the raw materials from China. We need China for our energy transition,” admitted Schreinemacher ‐ a reason why Europe needs to carefully choose its words when dealing with the country.
“I am sometimes asked why we do not stop trading with China or use strong language against China, as the United States does. But the US also still does a lot to promote its own trade with China,” she stated.
Schreinemacher points towards Africa as a potential alternative source for the crucial raw materials the EU desperately needs.
“Africa also has a lot of resources. The Chinese have been active there for some time, and Russia is joining them. The Netherlands and Europe cannot be left behind,” she stated, adding that there is currently a certain “eagerness” in Africa to cooperate with the EU ‐ despite the bloc being forced to rethink its policy towards the continent following a multitude of coup d’états in the Sahel region ousting EU-friendly leaders.
Mutually beneficial trade deals could aid in quenching the African continent’s thirst for jobs and keep Africans from seeking employment in Europe, the minister – whose VVD party is gearing up for an election campaign poised to be dominated by the migration topic ‐ reasoned.
… or in Europe?
Concerning the controversial topic of mining critical raw materials (CRM) in Europe, Schreinemacher showed no understanding of opposition by citizens.
“[Rejecting mining in Europe is] nimby thinking: not in my backyard. So, are these metals allowed to be mined in Africa? I find that a bit crazy,” she stated.
Schreinemacher’s clear position on the matter may be facilitated by the fact that the Netherlands barely possesses any critical raw materials on its own territory, with potential exploitation, therefore, likely to occur in other EU countries.
Instead of mining itself, the minister called for her country to become a crucial player in the processing of CRM in a way that other countries “can’t ignore [us]”.