21.06.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Mosaic Nature of Chinese-European Relations

Mosaic Nature of Chinese-European Relations

Relations between People’s Republic of China and Europe resemble a complex mosaic, mainly due to significant presence of the sum of factors defined by the elastic term “politics.” The first of such important factors is the continuing prevailing influence of the United States on everything happening on the continent. All that despite the obvious shift of the Washington’s main interests towards the Indo-Pacific region, it plays its own game with Beijing, which is not always identical with European.

But it is difficult to talk even about the European game with any degree of certainty due to obscurity of the very notion of “Europe” in and of itself. The main candidates to represent Europe are top EU officials. However, the procedure of appointment of concrete persons for all public posts in the EU has very indirect relation to democratic will of European peoples. Simply because these appointees should first and foremost implement the will of Transatlantic elites who avoid publicity. One of these elites’ locations is the “Washington swamp” which Donald Trump failed to drain. Let us wish him good luck in his “second try” for the benefit of his country and the overwhelming majority of the mankind.

Going down from the level of Trans-European structures to lower “layers,” the best words to describe the processes here would be “complete mayhem.” Talks about “regionalism” on the European political landscape have continued for decades. But in the last few years there have been signs of serious divergences in approaches towards solution of such problems between individual European countries as well, and even domestically in almost each of them.

Earlier forms of such divergences have been dealt with by the New Eastern Outlook in relation to the problem of ever-growing competition in the world in general, and specifically on the European continent, between two (out of three leading) states in the Indo-Pacific region which are today China and Japan. Since then, new details have appeared which prompt this author to turn, again, to the mosaic of current Chinese-European relations.

First of all, note once again the increasingly obvious importance for the parties of not only preserving the current level, but of developing these relations further. However, while Beijing tries to follow this trend in its European policies, the increasing pressure from Washington is more and more obviously felt in the Europeans’ policy towards China.

The illustration in the Chinese Global Times article on this issue expresses a rather desired vision of Europe’s positioning than the actual state of affairs in its relations with the United States. The article nevertheless notes, citing the example of Amundi, the leading European asset manager, that the European businesses seek to develop economic cooperation with China.

But this transformation of bilateral relations is quite evidently blocked by a political barrier. On May 12, Stockholm hosted a meeting of foreign ministers of the EU members who decided to continue to follow the trend set by the EU leadership to “reduce economic reliance on China.”

High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell clarified that the talk is just about “key technologies such as solar panels and critical materials.” However, he stressed that the aim was not to “de-couple” the European and Chinese economies. The term “de-coupling” in relation to China originated in the US in 2020.

But here (as is usual for such events), Baltic limitrophes showed themselves, as they already have – absolutely negatively – in the Taiwan issue. Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs stated that the EU in general should be getting ready for such perspective, i.e., “de-coupling.”

However, it seems that European bureaucrats considered that this would be “too much,” which is why they limited themselves to such a message for China: “Guys, we will “de-couple” from you, but only a little. You know, to appease our master. He is strict fellow. So, please, do not get too upset.”

Nevertheless, one cannot get rid of the parallels with what the relations between the EU and Russia went through in the last few years. Everything started with a gradual set of “sanctions” and ended with a (de-facto shot in Europe’s own foot) “de-risking to reduce the dependence on Russian gas supplies.” This is what ordinary Europeans pay a heavy price for, but apparently, current European leaders couldn’t care less about such minutiae.

But, of course, not all of them. At the very least because European leaders are elected by those same ordinary Europeans. Which could explain, to an extent, why there are differences in positioning of individual European countries on international arena in general and towards China (and Russia) in particular.

Among all of Europe, the position adopted by the United Kingdom seems to be the toughest and the most counterproductive. This has, as usual, been very well illustrated by Global Times. Among the latest anti-Chinese actions by London, the former Prime Minister Liz Truss’ suggestion, uttered while she was on Taiwan, to create an “Economic NATO,” stands out.

That this was not a private initiative on the part of the former official is evidenced by signature of the current British government under the so-called “Declaration of the Six.” On June 9, Joint Declaration Against Trade-Related Economic Coercion and Non-Market Policies and Practices was signed by Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom (the only European (?) country), and the United States. This document is interesting in terms of introducing a new (after the “de-coupling”) meme, “economic coercion,” which is intended to describe Chinese policy, even though China itself is not mentioned directly in this Declaration.

London also continues to be concerned with the situation in Hong-Kong, which is why in late May it published a new, semi-annual review dedicated to different “violations” in the currently Chinese “Hong-Kong special administrative region” (HKSAR). Apparently, the UK Foreign Office is content with continuing to waste money on officials producing this useless piece of paper. However, Chinese Ministry of Foreign affairs, hinted clearly that it is time for London to calm down. After all, it has been 26 years since HKSAR reunified with the rest of China.

Meanwhile, relations between China and the leading EU countries, France and Germany, look much more positively. Although the policies of the German leadership, which has in its composition probably the most anti-German elements in all of the post-World War II period, also show certain pro-American and anti-Chinese trends.

However, China’s leadership does not stop its attempts to preserve relations with Germany. Rather remarkable in this context looks the meeting between the second person in China’s foreign policy (after Xi Jinping), Wang Yi, and China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang, on one side, with German Chancellor’s advisor Jens Plötner, on the other. In its commentary on the results of negotiations, Global Times highlights the following words of the guest: “We are full of expectations for the upcoming round of inter-governmental consultations between the two countries and will work together to speed up the preparatory work.” This is admittedly by no means a “Declaration of the Six.”

For the moment, there are no indication of it being signed by France any time soon. Recall that the latest visit of the President Emmanuelle Macron to China was generally positive. In early June, Wang Yi held telephone talks with the adviser of the French president Emmanuel Bonn. In the commentary on the talks, one cannot but notice the parties’ expressed intention to develop relations in such formats as “China-France” and “China-Europe.” Speaking of the latter, the parties recommended Europe to “maintain unity, adhere to independence and autonomy.”

Given all of the above, a conclusion could be made that following this recommendation will not be easy, and so far, Chinese-European continue to be a rather complex mosaic.


Vladimir Terekhov, expert in issues of Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the “New Eastern Outlook” online magazine

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