(TibetanReview.net, Oct30’22) – Belgium’s recently appointed Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib has continued to refuse to accede to China’s demand that she withdraw her remark made in an online interview in which she described the country as a “potential enemy”, reported the europeanconservative.com Oct 29. The report called the diplomatic incident a perfect microcosm of the growing unease European nations feel over China’s considerable investments in their ports and other critical infrastructure.
The focus of the interview, which took place way back in early October, was the Russian war in Ukraine. However, the interview with the De Tijd, a Belgian newspaper that mainly focuses on business and economics, soon saw Lahbib’s concern about the Chinese presence in Belgian ports enter into the conversation.
“We are looking closely at China, with which we have a complex relationship. The country is a partner, a rival, and a potential enemy at the same time,” she was quoted as saying.
And then, while referring to a report by Flemish Professor of International Politics Jonathan Holslag, she has mentioned how Chinese merchant ships had been so designed that they could convert into warships, should the need arise.
Following the interview, a diplomat from the Chinese embassy in Brussels met with a Belgian foreign ministry official and sought to chide Lahbib over her “accusations,” telling her not to listen to “rumours.” Beijing subsequently asked Belgium to retract the interview, which its foreign affairs ministry has thus far declined to do, the report said.
The minister’s remark is seen as being at odd with Belgium’s official position, with the government being “much-bothered” by the diplomatic incident.
The report noted that officially, China—while never chummy with the West—is not viewed as an enemy (not even a potential one) by Belgium, nor indeed by the European Union. It added that to move towards that status could jeopardize the numerous trade relations at play.
Indeed, the Chinese diplomat was stated to have pointed out how lucrative trade between Chinese and Belgian ports had been for the nation, and that Brussels should respect that economic activity, if it seeks its continuance.
Lahbib took office in July this year and the report saw the fledgling foreign minister’s choice of words being matched by the brazenness of the Chinese diplomat and his Beijing superiors.
The report saw the incident as a perfect microcosm of the growing unease European nations feel over an emboldened China and its considerable investments in their ports (for Belgium, one can point to COSCO Shipping, a Chinese state-owned company, which in 2017 became a majority shareholder of a container terminal in the port of Zeebrugge), and other critical infrastructure.
Hadja Lahbib is a Belgian journalist, TV presenter, director and political figure; she became the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belgium on Jul 15, 2022.