Chinese President Xi visits Europe in search of strategic opportunities

On his first trip to Europe in five years, Chinese President Xi Jinping appears keen to loosen ties between the continent and the United States and seize the opportunity to build a world free of American domination.

The Chinese leader chose France, Serbia, and Hungary as destinations for his visit, all of which to some extent have doubts about the U.S. postwar world order, see China as a necessary counterweight, and are eager to strengthen economic ties. It is.

Tensions are high in many parts of Europe, including China’s “unrestricted” acceptance of Russia despite the war in Ukraine, its surveillance state, and apparent espionage activity that led to the recent arrests of four people in Germany. Amid the rise, Mr. Xi is scheduled to arrive in France on Sunday, hoping to demonstrate China’s growing influence on the continent and pursue pragmatic approaches.

For Europe, the trip is a test of the delicate balancing act between China and the United States, and will no doubt be seen in Washington as Mr. Xi’s not-so-subtle effort to divide Western allies.

He timed his arrival in Serbia, his second destination, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of a fatal NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war. The May 7, 1999, mistaken bombing, for which the White House has apologized, killed three Chinese journalists and sparked violent protests around the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

“For Mr. Xi, being in Belgrade is a very economical way to question whether the United States is really serious about international law,” said Janka Oertel, head of the Asia Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin. . , What about NATO overreach as a problem for other countries? ”

The Chinese government continues to commemorate the Belgrade bombing, using it as an opportunity to denounce what it sees as Western hypocrisy and bullying.

“The United States has always seen itself as the world leader, the hegemon, so China is a competitor or an adversary challenging that hegemony,” said Tu Xingguan, director of the International Trade Institute at the International University of Business and Economics. said. In Beijing. “There is no hegemonic mindset in the European Union.”

The 27-member European Union’s official principles define China as a “cooperation partner, economic competitor and systemic rival.” If that seems repetitive and perhaps contradictory, it is because the continent is trying to balance economic opportunities in China with national security risks, cybersecurity risks, and economic risks to various industries. This is because they are torn between how to strike a balance.

In March, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters that the European method would not work. “It’s like driving to an intersection and realizing that the red, yellow, and green lights are all on at the same time. How can I drive?”

Now, Mr. Xi wants to ease the traffic lights toward a green light.

To that end, Mr. Xi’s first and most important stop will be France. The country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, has frequently made the Gorlist-like argument that Europe “must never become a vassal state of the United States,” as he did last month. In a lecture at the Sorbonne University. The French leader insists the survival of the European Union depends on “strategic autonomy”. and develop military resilience to become a “powerful European power.” He rejects the concept of “equidistance” between China and the United States (France is one of America’s oldest allies), but wants to keep options open.

All of this is music to Mr. Xi’s ears.

“Macron is trying to bring a third way into the current global turmoil,” said Philippe Le Cole, a leading French expert on relations with China. “He’s trying to walk a fine line between two major superpowers.”

Just over a year ago, Mr. Macron received lavish entertainment during a visit to China that ended with the declaration of a “global strategic partnership” between China and France. The French leader reiterated China’s terminology for a “multipolar” world freed from “blocs” and a “Cold War mentality.”

Now, in anticipation of Xi’s visit, China has praised France as a great power and expressed the hope that relations between the two countries will “always be at the forefront of China’s relations with the West.” Lu Shaye’s wordsChinese Ambassador to France, People’s Daily.

Mr Macron recently warned that “our Europe is mortal” and would only be saved if it became “sovereign”, before hosting a state dinner in Paris for Mr Xi on Monday. He plans to host the event and guide Mr. Xi through his personal interactions as follows. My favorite childhood place in the Pyrenees.

The two men’s compatibility seems essentially to lie in their shared view that the postwar order is moribund and must be replaced by a new structure that takes into account changes in power. Mr. Xi is almost certainly the most repressive and authoritarian leader in recent Chinese history, and the perception that China’s military threat to Taiwan is escalating is a sign that there is no consensus among both leaders. not exist.

Over the past six months, Macron has visited both India and Brazil, seeking to position France as a fulcrum between the West and the BRICS group of developing countries that includes China. He sees France as a bridge amid rising tensions between the Global South and the West.

From France, Xi moves into the warm embrace of Serbia, where China is China’s second-largest trading partner, and Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has backed huge Chinese investments and used his country’s status as a member of the European Union. right. They are members to weaken criticism of China. Both countries are taking the reins from American power.

However, beyond these two friends of China, there are serious differences between China and Europe, whose economy was roughly the same size as the European Union in dollar terms at the time of Xi’s last visit in 2019. be. Currently, China’s economy accounts for about 15%. bigger.

Last fall, the European Union launched an investigation into whether Chinese-made electric cars benefit from unfair subsidies, and a decision is expected by this summer. This has led to tensions between China and Germany, with Germany having a smaller presence in China’s car market than other European countries. China accounts for at least half of Volkswagen’s annual profits.

German manufacturers with factories in China are concerned that European tariffs could affect their exports from China and trigger tit-for-tat retaliation.

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will also participate in talks with Xi in Paris. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, whose relationship with Mr Macron has soured, dined with the French president in Paris this week. All this is clearly part of an attempt to build a united European front.

But it’s always elusive.

Anger against Russia in Europe is highest in countries on the front lines with Russia, such as Poland and the Baltic states. They are perhaps most attached to an alliance with the United States, which Mr. Macron hopes to offset by building a sovereign Europe. They are also most wary of China, which has never condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Mr. Macron, like Mr. Scholz, who visited China last month, believes that China’s influence is important in ending the war in Ukraine. French analysis suggests that only Beijing can put real pressure on Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who is set to take office for a fifth term during Mr. Xi’s trip to Europe.

The problem is that China has shown little to no such tendencies, as it did during Macron’s visit to Beijing last year. Indeed, Mr. Xi Plans to welcome Mr. Putin in China later this month.

“It’s hard to imagine a new discussion on Ukraine,” Francois Godeman, special adviser and senior resident fellow at the Montaigne Institute in Paris, said of the meeting between Macron and Xi. “The die has been cast.”

Still, there is little doubt that Mr. Macron will try to win Mr. Xi’s support again ahead of the Ukraine peace conference in Switzerland in mid-June.

At a deeper level, Mr Macron seems certain to use Mr Xi’s visit to advance an agenda that will ensure Europe’s relevance in the coming decades. He is wary of the United States’ re-election of former President Donald J. Trump in November, which could have unpredictable consequences.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Said“As long as China and Europe join forces, there will be no bloc conflict, the world will not collapse, and there will be no new Cold War.”

Despite fundamental differences in governance between China’s one-party state and Western liberal democracies, leaders of the three European countries Mr. They seem to have accepted it.

Contributing to the report were Olivia Wang in Hong Kong, Keith Bradsher in Beijing, Christopher S. Schütze and Melissa Eddy in Berlin, and Ségolène Le Stradic in Paris.

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