The U.S. ambassador to the European Union is offering a message to a continent that is frequently at odds with his boss: Let’s get over our problems so that we can take on China together.
Gordon Sondland, who was sworn in as ambassador in late June, told a group of reporters in Brussels that once the United States had an appropriate trade deal with Europe, they could form a unified front to take on China.
“The jackpot is having what is about $40 trillion combined GDP working as a bloc in terms of dealing with Chinese growth, Chinese theft of intellectual property, Chinese malign activity, Chinese militarization in South China Sea and all the other things we’ve been calling out to China to stop doing,” Sondland said, according to Euractiv.
“The sooner we conclude our business, the sooner we can both turn to the real opportunity, which is to deal with China and make China act like a good global citizen in the business world and otherwise,” he said.
The United States could help European governments by giving them access to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a mechanism that can help screen investors, Sondland told the reporters. “You don’t want to sell a business to someone that you think is a Dane, or an American, or a Greek, then find out it’s Chinese money or control behind it,” he said.
The ambassador’s message came the same week that Vice President Pence accused Beijing of using trade policies to try to undermine U.S. leadership. “By one estimate, more than 80 percent of U.S. counties targeted by China voted for President Trump in 2016; now China wants to turn these voters against our administration,” Pence said in a speech at the Hudson Institute on Thursday.
Sondland has personal ties to Europe as his parents fled Nazi Germany during World War II. Though he distanced himself from Trump during the 2016 presidential election campaign, Sondland, the founder of a chain of boutique hotels, was later reported to have donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee.
It’s a difficult time in transatlantic relations. European leaders are often at odds with Trump, who has spoken disparagingly of the E.U. as an institution and has taken policy actions, such as pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal, that prominent leaders, such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron, oppose.
A recent Pew poll of global views of the United States found a high level of skepticism about Trump among the European public. In France, Germany and Spain, confidence in Trump’s ability to properly handle global affairs was lower than 10 percent, and sizable majorities in many European nations surveyed said that the United States did not consider their interests when considering policy.
However, the same poll found that in most European countries surveyed, majorities said they would prefer the United States to be a the leader global power, as opposed to China, suggesting a window of opportunity that Sondland could exploit.
The United States is seeking a new trade deal with the E.U. after pulling out of talks for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership last year, with some reports suggesting that the early stages of a deal may be worked out before the end of the year. Sondland told reporters in Brussels that “the president is expecting” significant progress on a deal by November or December, Euractiv reported.
The Trump administration has had some success on trade deals recently, revising an agreement with South Korea and reaching a new pact with Mexico and Canada. Some experts have suggested that the administration is focusing its efforts on China, which it sees as a bigger problem. One notable clause in the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement allows signatories to pull out if one country seeks a separate free trade agreement with a “nonmarket country” — widely interpreted as a warning against a side deal with China.
“We cannot talk about trade without talking about China,” Sondland wrote in an article for Politico Europe last month. “We all share an interest in seeing China offer greater market access and eliminate unfair trade practices, and together we can insist China take the necessary steps to allow its economy to operate more fairly.”