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China seeks to cement ties in Europe

Chinese President Xi Jinping aims to strengthen relations in Europe, a traditional stronghold of support for the United States, as a buffer against fragile Sino-American relations, analysts say.

Xi met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel last Wednesday and European Council President Charles Michel on Friday. The council is a decision-making body of the European Union, an economic bloc of 27 nations, including the largest countries in Europe.

China hopes to forge trade and investment ties with individual European countries as it seeks partnerships that can counter a half-decade of acrimony with its rival superpower the United States, said Stephen Nagy, associate professor. Principal of Politics and International Studies at Tokyo International Christian University. .

Western Europe has been resolutely turned towards the United States since World War II, although differences emerge – for example, France’s anger over a military technology-sharing agreement between the United States, the United Kingdom – United and Australia (AUKUS) nuclear-powered submarines concluded last month.

“We see the European Union and Germany converging with the United States, and this convergence is something that China would like to stop, as soon as possible,” Nagy said.

Convergence could isolate China in the developed world, complicating its global political and economic goals.

Series of pain points in Sino-US, Sino-European relations

Beijing and Washington have strongly disagreed since 2018 over the use of internet technology, international trade rules, and China’s expansion in Asia, including the South China Sea. Washington is particularly watching whether China attacks Taiwan, an autonomous island that the Chinese leaders call theirs.

EU-China relations have also deteriorated over the past year due to Beijing’s treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority and support for Taiwan autonomy among Lithuanian and Czech leaders.

On the economic front, the move and talks to ratify the EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement were “rightly frozen” in May due to China’s imposition of sanctions “on several European individuals and entities “, according to the European Parliament. .

France, Germany and the UK have further angered China this year by sending military ships to the South China Sea where they joined Washington to monitor Beijing’s movements. Four Southeast Asian states and Taiwan claim parts of the resource-rich sea, but China claims 90%.

Many countries in Europe “back off from the PRC’s illiberal policies at home and go too far abroad,” said Sean King, vice president of political consultancy Park Strategies in New York.

Upward trend in China’s relations with various European countries

While China-EU relations have been strained, China remains the EU’s largest trading partner and the source of billions of dollars a year in direct investment, especially in energy. Its relationships vary from member country to member country, with peers from Central and Eastern Europe like Hungary and Serbia keen to engage while peers from Western Europe are more skeptical – though rarely so harshly. than the United States.

“Xi Jinping has probably and rightly seen the European Union for a long time as an easy target and will undoubtedly pursue deeper relations there, regardless of the state of Beijing’s ties with Washington,” King said. . Beyond politics, he said, “the Chinese Communist Party surely aspires to access European technology, markets, universities and think tanks.

During his video conference with Merkel, head of Europe’s largest economy, Xi said both sides support trade and “believe that the common interests of China and the EU far outweigh any contradictions. and the differences, ”according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Beijing has been locked in a trade dispute with the United States since 2018, affecting $ 550 billion in bilateral trade with a particularly hard impact on Chinese exports.

China and the EU, “as two important forces in the world, have a responsibility to strengthen cooperation and work together to address global issues in the face of growing global challenges and instability and uncertainty. increasing, ”Xi said.

Xi told the president of the European Council that it was “not surprising that competition and differences have arisen” between China and the EU, according to Chinese news site CGTN. He suggested that the two sides work more together in the field of technology, and that China expand its multi-trillion-dollar pan-Eurasian infrastructure-building initiative.

Chinese leaders could attract European countries with open access to the Chinese market, where middle-class consumers still buy luxury brands from France and Italy, Nagy said. Trade “incentives” would attract the EU as it recovers economically from COVID-19, he said.

European countries want more investment in clean energy and technology, while both sides seek intellectual property protections, said James Berkeley, managing director of consulting firm Ellice Consulting in London.

His 8-year-old consultancy now conducts most of its business with a focus on the United States, but it anticipates renewed interest in China if Sino-UK relations improve, Berkeley said. . Chinese automakers, for example, might be able to refine intellectual property in Europe and re-enforce those rights in their home market, Berkeley said.

“There are Chinese investors who have an international perspective and they are looking to deploy capital in international companies where they can develop intellectual property and then reverse that intellectual property,” he said.

Stronger trade and investment relations will not politically influence pro-American European nations towards China, experts say. However, China may be able to improve its relations with the countries of central and eastern Europe and “divide” the EU, Nagy said.

He compared this approach to Southeast Asia. Chinese aid to the Asian subcontinent won the loyalty of Cambodia and Laos but missed that mark in Vietnam and the Philippines, where citizens have long been wary of China.


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