EU must be wary of Beijing’s new charm offensive

Lately, Beijing appears to be launching a charm offensive towards the European Union — sending special envoys to the region, seeking contacts with European ministers at the July G20 foreign ministers’ meeting in Bali, supporting the purchase of nearly 300 Airbus aircraft by Chinese airlines and agreeing to lead the EU-China high-level economic and trade dialogue.

He most likely hopes the leaders of Germany, France, Italy and Spain will visit Beijing on their way to the G20 summit in Indonesia this fall (although Beijing has denied a report to that effect). effect).

China seems to be signaling that it wants to stabilize relations, but the EU should be wary.

The recent moves are inexpensive and low risk for Beijing. He has shown no willingness to address issues the EU sees as obstacles to the relationship – Russia, Lithuania and the human rights situation in Xinjiang.

Europe and China have continued to drift apart in recent months, reducing Brussels-Beijing interactions to essentially a damage control channel.

In light of the exchange of sanctions in 2021, the economic coercion exerted by China on Lithuania for allowing Taiwan to open a representative office under the name of Taiwan instead of Taipei, and the divergence of approaches to to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the scope for substantial collaborative initiatives is indeed reduced.

The EU should be cautious about any change in Chinese tone for another reason – a rapprochement seems tempting given the short-term pressures on both sides.

EU leaders could be in favor of stabilizing relations with China to alleviate the economic crisis that threatens Europe.

In the face of domestic economic pressure and growing geopolitical pressure from the United States (and improving transatlantic relations), Beijing may seek a modicum of foreign policy stability ahead of this year’s Communist Party of China (CCP) Congress. fall.

But the EU should bear in mind that Beijing’s conciliatory tone could prove unsustainable.

Beijing’s growing geopolitical assertiveness, its continued political support for Moscow, and its strong reaction to being officially labeled a “challenge” by the NATO summit and the visit of the Speaker of the States House of Representatives States, Nancy Pelosi, in Taiwan, point in a different direction.

Its launch of the Global Security Initiative (GSI) coupled with outreach to developing countries – all of which also suggests that a significant shift in Beijing’s stance towards the EU would require a transformation of the whole foreign policy of China, a seismic shift that could only be initiated by President Xi Jinping himself.

He spent two terms as the CCP’s general secretary and used that time to increase his influence over foreign policy and the state’s diplomatic apparatus.

Xi has redefined the scope of foreign policy actors to include more non-traditional and non-state actors under the concept of “grand diplomacy” (大外交), weakening state structures and centralizing foreign decision-making among foreign countries. hands of the CCP.

In 2018, for example, he spearheaded the establishment of the party’s central foreign affairs committee and the promotion of political loyalists over technocrats in Chinese diplomatic structures.

Time and time again, Xi has been personally involved in foreign policy, launching projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative and GSI – and no doubt also in China’s broad political alignment with Russia.

Get real

If China really wanted to realign its foreign policy trajectory, the party congress this fall would signal it (in addition to granting Xi the all-important third term as CCP general secretary).

The two senior foreign policy officials — Yang Jiechi, a member of the CPC Political Bureau and director of the General Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Committee, and Wang Yi, a State Councilor and Foreign Minister — are expected to retire in accordance with to the CCP’s age limits.

Their successors will signal the kind of expertise the party expects to need for the next half-decade – and Xi’s speech to the Party Congress should provide more context for that.

Substantial signals of redirection could also include support from Beijing to deal with the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine on energy and food supplies as well as migration.

It should include a more cooperative tone towards the EU in multilateral fora such as the World Health Organization or the International Monetary Fund) and “minilateral” organizations such as the BRICS grouping of countries, as well as bilateral concessions in climate policy, competition, human rights and other key issues for the EU.

Europe should look for such signals, but not bet that China’s position will fundamentally change at the party congress or during Xi’s third term as general secretary.

The EU must remain lucid about Beijing’s current diplomatic efforts. This is more likely a politically motivated request for temporary stabilization than an attempt to restore relations.

Should a visit to Beijing by selected European leaders materialize, the EU should guard against fragmentation of the bloc’s position, perhaps by agreeing a common position at a European Council summit before the visit or by demanding the inclusion of Poland, the Netherlands or others in the group.

Any possibility of targeted cooperation should of course not be ruled out. But any EU-China stabilization should include concrete and verifiable demands from the EU, not just goodwill gestures.


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