Under President Xi Jinping, China has looked to take up a role as the leading power in the world. While Beijing has begun its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, Europe has been crippled.
With the EU failing to quickly support member states from the coronavirus pandemic, China has used a “divide and rule” approach to gain influence on the continent.
China has sent aid to Greece, Italy and sent a medical team to Serbia leading to the country’s Prime Minister, Aleksandar Vucic claiming European solidarity no longer exists.
With China looking to strengthen its foothold in the EU, professor Steve Tsang from the School of Oriental and African Studies, warned Europe now has a serious problem on its hands due to the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic and due to Beijing’s infrastructure plans for the continent.
He told Express.co.uk: “Europe has a problem.
“And the problem is with some of the eastern European countries.
“China is essentially trying a divide and rule approach to the EU.
“Some of the EU countries are being enticed to be much closer to China and to break away from European norms.
“And that is a serious problem.
“The pandemic hasn’t helped but the problem with the pandemic is not so much in eastern European countries as it is with Italy.”
While China has sent support to certain countries during the coronavirus pandemic, Beijing has also launched its Belt and Road plan which stretches into eastern and central Europe.
The plan, sometimes called the New Silk Road, was launched in 2013 and involves the proliferation of infrastructure and investment in almost 70 countries.
In 2012, China launched an agreement with 17 central and eastern European countries.
These countries are on the frontline of the Belt and Road plan and which has seen states such as Hungary turn towards Beijing due to its clashes with Brussels.
Italy, Europe’s third-largest economy also announced it was joining the initiative last year prior to its clashes with the EU over the coronavirus.
Such is the fallout from the lack of support from the EU during the pandemic, 52 percent of Italians asked between March 20 and April 12, claimed China was now the country’s greatest ally.
In contrast, Germany and France were voted as the two highest enemies of the country in a poll from Italian market researcher, SWG.
Such is the fear of Chinese influence in the bloc, the €500billion (£448billion) put forward by France and Germany included a specific demand for an industrial policy to stop investment from third countries.
NATO this month also stated its apprehension of the growing dominance and military development of Beijing.
In a stark admission, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg urged nations to strengthen the alliance in order to stop any potential threat from China.
Although he stated China was not an enemy, he demanded a more unified approach to any outside threat to the alliance.
He said: “Ultimately, we must stand up for a world built on freedom and democracy.
“The rise of China is fundamentally shifting the global balance of power, heating up the race for economic and technological supremacy, multiplying the threats to open societies and individual freedoms and increasing the competition over our values and our way of life.”