22.05.2024 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the geopolitical background of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s trip to Europe

Chinese leader Xi Jinping's trip to Europe

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s trip to Europe from 5 to 9 May this year was remarkable in many ways. It was the first since his last trip to Europe five years ago, which included a visit to France. However, President Xi has already travelled to the continent twice since assuming top positions in the Chinese government and party, and before the aforementioned (2019) trip.

It should be recalled that the main content of the second of these trips, which took place in January 2017, was a keynote speech at the Davos Forum, in which the leader of the already virtually established second global power outlined his vision of the most preferable scenario for the development of world processes. Its ultimate goal should have been the formation of a “Community of Common Destiny” in which each of its participants would feel quite comfortable.

However, almost immediately after the Chinese leader’s next tour of Europe (which, let us repeat, took place in March 2019), a number of negative phenomena of a global scale appeared, strangely superimposed on each other. Such as the “Covid-19 pandemic”, the sharp deterioration of the global economic organism and the deterioration of the political situation in general. The latter, in particular, took the form of local military conflicts that broke out in various regions of the world. All this should generally be seen as signs (perhaps “tools”) of a radical reformatting of the world order.

Some of the intermediate results of this global process are already visible today. In particular, the category of the “generalised West” is becoming increasingly ephemeral. Both in general and in its main components, which still include Europe. The question of what is meant when the word “Europe” is uttered is becoming increasingly relevant. Moreover, it is not entirely clear what is meant by the individual countries that are still included (rather, let us repeat, by inertia) in the “generalised West”. Moreover, this ambiguity does not only apply to the United States, which is on the verge of civil war.

What, for example, is the current German government? On the one hand, Chancellor Olaf Scholz shows his desire to develop relations with China. But the head of his own Foreign Ministry is not tired of sending all sorts of philippics to Beijing. Especially during his visit to Australia (followed by a trip to New Zealand and Fiji), which took place during Xi Jinping’s much-discussed visit to Europe. At the same time, the German Defence Minister is sending not words but two ships of the country’s navy to the same address. Officially to the South China Sea region, but at the same time the press is discussing whether they will pass through the Taiwan Strait. This would be a blatant provocation to Beijing.

What France refrained from doing during the US-Philippine exercise (with the symbolic participation of Australia) “Balikatan”, which took place from 22 April to 10 May in the same South China Sea. In the course of which the French frigate, which was here, carried out a certain “patrol” mission in the south of this sea area. That is, and yet, outside the zone of the actual exercises.

Moreover, if one can still hear something more or less clear from France about the motivation of its military demonstrations in the Indo-Pacific region (the overseas territory of New Caledonia, although very far from the South China Sea, is still located in the Pacific Ocean), there is no reason to expect even such “explanations” from the Federal Republic of Germany.

In the eyes of China’s leadership, the situation in Europe seems to be even more confused, since the sharp and comprehensive deterioration of relations with the third “historical pillar” of European politics, the United Kingdom, which has been positioned on the continent for centuries, cannot be ignored. Incidentally, almost ten years ago, the UK was the object of Xi Jinping’s first trip to Europe, which was then hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron, now heading (in all likelihood, in recent months) the British Foreign Office. And who today prefers not to recall his own prophecy of that time “about the coming golden age” in relations with the PRC.

Since already under his successor Theresa May, a course of rapprochement between the UK and Japan, which is more and more clearly positioned as China’s “number two” geopolitical opponent, was outlined. The above-mentioned course further developed only in an upward direction. Note, for example, the growing co-operation in the development of the latest military technologies. In particular, a joint programme to develop the next (“sixth”) generation fighter jet has been underway for several years, and Italy has recently joined it.

In June of this year, the Japanese Imperial couple is scheduled to visit the UK, which will be an extremely important stage in the development of bilateral relations. Despite the official ceremonial status of the Emperor in the system of statehood of present-day Japan.

However, even before this, let us repeat, milestone event, another visit to Europe by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida left a very noticeable trace in the development of the situation on the continent. He left the continent three days before Xi Jinping arrived there.

The situation in Europe continues to be affected by the presence of the leader of the “generalised West”, the US. The prospect of restoring the positive character of Russian-European relations is not at all hopeless. Despite all the attempts to build a barrier between the parties from parasitic boils in the eastern part of the continent. They live at the expense of fulfilling the only function assigned by their “sponsors”, namely, the poisoning of the pan-European atmosphere.

In other words, the increasing complexity of the puzzle depicting the political situation in Europe (which calls into question its subjectivity) is overlaid with the increasingly obvious factor of the struggle between the world’s leading players for influence on the continent. The continent is home to half a billion people who ensure the functioning of the advanced economy.

And the main purpose of the discussed trip to Europe by the leader of one of the two global powers, which took place five years after the previous one, was apparently to form an on-the-spot idea of what such an important partner in the system of international relations is today. After all the processes (mostly, we repeat, negative) that have taken place in the world arena during this time.

Meanwhile, the world agencies’ reports on this issue focus mainly on one or another specifics of the trade and economic sphere of bilateral relations. Undoubtedly, it is extremely important, but the resolution of problems related to it falls within the competence of expert groups, profile ministers and at most prime ministers. This, by the way, is what they do, making regular visits to each other.

However, the European partners’ accumulated questions to China in this area are apparently so serious that Ursula von der Leyen, who is in charge of the EU economy, was allegedly asked to attend Xi Jinping’s meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron. It is quite possible to imagine a message sent by her in the direction of the distinguished guest with the following content: “Dear Mr President Xi. As you are well aware, China earns $300-400bn annually from trade with us. Meanwhile, we have reason to suspect that some of the rules of international trade are not fully respected. Could you please dispel our doubts or take some measures, if they are fair”.

Generally speaking, it is quite a common situation of some dormitory when some domestic misunderstanding arises between two of its members. Both prefer to resolve it in good faith dialogue. In the vast majority of cases, they have absolutely nothing to do with the essence of the problem.

The fact that France was followed by the Chinese leader’s visit to Serbia and Hungary cannot but be associated with the “14+1” configuration (which was active until relatively recently), which includes a group of Eastern European countries and China. After the departure of three Baltic countries from its predecessor (“17+1”), this configuration fell out of the world’s media spotlight for some time. Apparently, the Chinese leadership is again showing interest in it as a potentially important participant in the global Belt and Road Initiative project. It should be noted that the EU has always been suspicious of this configuration, viewing it as a source of possible separatist trends.

On the whole, the latest tour of the PRC leader to three European countries, which included discussion of some other aspects of the current stage of the “Great World Game” (such as the armed conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East), was a notable event in it.


Vladimir TEREKHOV, expert on the problems of the Asia-Pacific region, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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