We will not give in to the American power game, our economy minister Micky Adriaansens swore at the end of last year. His colleague for international trade, Liesje Schreinemacher, said the Netherlands would follow its own line in the case of chip machine maker ASML. Good luck, I thought.
Because at the beginning of October, President Biden of the United States had decided to hit China hard. The country had to be denied access to advanced semiconductors, which are mainly produced with Dutch machines from ASML and by Taiwan’s TSMC. The formal argument was that national security was threatened. Because with these chips, supercomputers can develop advanced weapons. In reality, it is a technological race to prevent China from becoming the most powerful country in the world.
Because China has a completely different view of the world than the West, there is a lot to be said for the Netherlands to take up this battle with the European Union and the United States. For autocratic China, economics is politics, not free trade as it is for us. See the Belt and Road Initiative, the New Silk Roads. It seems to revolve around trade, but it’s mostly about increasing China’s global influence. ASML’s export restrictions are part of efforts to reduce that influence and preserve as much as possible the liberal world order that emphasizes democracy, human rights, and American leadership.
No clean line
The ASML case also shows that this company is too big for politics in The Hague. Somehow, President Biden only has to threaten to limit KLM’s landing rights in the United States, and the Netherlands will turn around. So no own line or power play resistance.
If you want to organize the resistance, you have to do it through the EU. Only then can the Netherlands take a stand against countries that want to put us at a disadvantage. America, like China, has a harder job with the European Commission than with the Rutte cabinet. This also pleads in favor of the issuance of export licenses for this type of company by Brussels.
Brussels can also forge global alliances of like-minded countries, allowing us to better protect our commercial interests or access to raw materials and energy. Trade agreements are the appropriate means for this. By doing so, you attract these countries towards you and you create mutual dependencies. Trade agreements are thus increasingly becoming instruments of power politics.
Sustainability goals too low
Sadly, none of this reached much of the House of Representatives and a small portion of the cabinet. The ChristenUnie supported a motion by the Party for the Animals aimed at forcing the government to block the Mercosur treaty with South American countries. According to the leader of the CU party, Mirjam Bikker, the sustainability objectives of this treaty are too weak and our farmers are the victims. In loyalty she says she fears the floodgates to cheap meat will be opened, so that Dutch farmers who are already suffering from the nitrogen measures will become the victims.
Here, an international treaty is linked to a nitrogen problem created by the Netherlands itself, and the EU is refused to take a position. This, and the ASML’s question, once again make it clear that the new world order is still an unknown phenomenon for The Hague.
Rob de Wijk is Professor of International Relations and Security at Leiden University and founder of The Hague Center for Strategic Studies (HCSS). He writes weekly on international relations. Read his columns here.
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