Over 20 years later, after dismissing calls to democratize and advancing its state-led economy to become the world’s second largest, China has become well practiced at saying no. In its present-day “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, China is now even learning to pressure the West to say yes to its own demands. Restricting access to the Chinese marketplace is often brandished to break the political will of offending parties.
Europe is a prime venue for China’s top diplomats to show this new assertiveness. Just last week, fearful of repercussions to its trade relationship with China, the European Union softened critical language in an upcoming report on China’s disinformation campaign about the coronavirus pandemic. But Europe need not bow down to China’s economic bullying—it, too, can afford to say no. Not only is Europe far less reliant on the Chinese market than many presume, but the strategic vulnerabilities and loss of competitiveness from trading and investing in China are also starting to outweigh economic opportunities.