The latest capitulation by the European Union in the face of Chinese intimidation demonstrates that, when it comes to protecting the interests of member states, the Brussels bureaucracy is no match for Beijing's new breed of warrior diplomats. Pictured: China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at EU headquarters in Brussels, on December 17, 2019. (Photo by John Thys/AFP via Getty Images)
The latest capitulation by the European Union in the face of Chinese intimidation demonstrates that, when it comes to protecting the interests of member states, the Brussels bureaucracy is no match for Beijing's new breed of warrior diplomats.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, one of the more notable features of China's response has been the willingness of senior Chinese diplomats to intervene forcibly in defence of China's interests.
The interventions of these "Wolf Warrior" diplomats, so-called after a series of iconic Chinese action movies in which Chinese special forces vanquish their American foes, take several forms.
On one level, Chinese ambassadors, particularly those based in Western capitals, simply resort to blackmail, threatening to deny governments vital medical supplies to cope with the pandemic if they do not comply with Beijing's wishes.
On another level, they indulge in disseminating fake news, using social media platforms to propagate information that is patently false.
To deal with the growing menace posed by China's diplomatic community, it is vital, therefore, that the West take robust action to protect its interests, and to hold China to account for its role in causing the pandemic in the first place, and then trying to cover its culpability by launching a global campaign to conceal the origins of the outbreak.
Unfortunately, so far as the EU is concerned, the Brussels establishment has proved itself to be little more than a paper tiger when it comes to dealing with China's more aggressive diplomatic approach, as can be seen from the EU's most recent act of appeasement towards Beijing. The latest controversy concerns an article written by Nicolas Chapuis, the EU's ambassador to China, which was conceived to mark the 45th anniversary of EU-China diplomatic relations, and was also signed by all 27 EU country national ambassadors in Beijing.
The article was written for publication in the state-owned China Daily newspaper, but ran into trouble when China's foreign ministry objected to a reference in the article which suggested the coronavirus pandemic originated in China. The offending passage referred to the "outbreak of the coronavirus in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world."
The article eventually appeared in print, but not before EU officials had agreed to remove this passage, prompting Mr Chapuis to remark, "It is of course regrettable to see that the sentence about the spread of the virus has been edited."
The EU's willingness to concede to Beijing's bully-boy tactics is not the first time in recent weeks that Brussels has been forced to capitulate to Chinese intimidation. Last month, the EU amended a report into China's disinformation campaign in Europe following pressure from Chinese officials. This prompted one outraged EU official to complain that the EU was "self-censoring to appease the Chinese Communist Party."
In this latest example of Brussels kowtowing to Beijing, the EU only has itself to blame: by seeking to publish the article, it was deliberately seeking to pivot towards China in what appeared to be a European attempt to seize upon a perceived lack of U.S. leadership during the pandemic.
Apart from making itself look weak and incompetent, the failure to publish the article in full has angered a number of European governments, who have themselves been targeted by Beijing's aggressive diplomatic tactics. This resulted in the Beijing embassies of countries such as Germany, France and Italy publishing the letter in full, complete with the reference originating in China and spreading from there to the rest of the world.
All these countries have good reason to want to stand their ground against Beijing. Italy has been the target of a skilful fake news campaign by Beijing with cleverly edited videos that show Italians showing their gratitude for China's help in the pandemic when no such demonstrations took place.
The French government was outraged after the Chinese embassy in Paris accused French care-workers of abandoning their posts, thereby causing elderly residents to die; while Germany has complained that Chinese diplomats tried to pressure officials to make positive statements on how Beijing was handling the coronavirus pandemic.
As the EU, by constantly capitulating to Beijing's demands, has shown it is totally incapable of protecting the interests of member states, the governments of Europe are finally waking up to the reality that, in order to defend themselves against China's bully-boy tactics, they will have to look after themselves.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.