As Xi reappears, Europe again falls prey to Chinese divide-and-conquer tactics – POLITICO

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BALI, Indonesia — All European leaders attending this week’s G20 summit in Bali wanted a one-on-one meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Not everyone had one.

Europeans’ desire to meet Xi was driven by the fact that this week was the first opportunity to meet the Chinese leader at a major diplomatic jamboree since the lockdowns in early 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic began in China and s has spread to the world.

The Europeans have always had to accept that they were going to fight for the crumbs of the calendar. US President Joe Biden spent three and a half hours with Xi, while French President Emmanuel Macron had to settle for 43 minutes (still perfectly respectable).

China has visibly revived its long-established tactic of courting specific EU countries and their national interests, which it has often used to destabilize Brussels. (When Brussels threatened an all-out trade war in 2013 over China undermining the European market for solar panels and telecommunications equipment, China cleverly broke EU unity by threatening retaliation against French wine and Spanish, playing Paris and Madrid against EU trade officials.)

Once again in Bali, China took the shrewd nation-to-nation approach, meeting with Macron, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, Italian Giorgia Meloni and Dutchman Mark Rutte, while avoiding the President of the European Commission. Ursula von der Leyen and the President of the European Council Charles Michel. . A meeting with Michel, at least, was widely expected in diplomatic circles.

China bristles at the EU’s designation that it is a « systemic rival » to Brussels and has instead decided to leverage its influence with every European country.

Take the meeting with Rutte. The Chinese leader’s main interest was that the Netherlands, home to chipmaker ASML, a company that makes key equipment for manufacturing microchips, not join any EU-US trade coalition seeking to exclude China from trade. new technologies.

« It is hoped that the Netherlands will strengthen Europe’s commitment to openness and cooperation, » Xi noted in a reading of the Dutch meeting. Translation: Don’t make commercial trouble with microchips.

Along with Sánchez, Xi underscored the importance of China as a driver of tourism in Spain, a sector where Madrid is particularly interested in high profile Asian visitors. « Both sides should make good preparations for the China-Spain Year of Culture and Tourism to build popular support for China-Spain friendship, » Xi said.

Similarly, state news agency Xinhua quoted Macron as saying he wanted more cooperation in business, especially in the aviation and civilian nuclear energy sectors. The Chinese narrative of the Xi-Meloni meeting was that Beijing would import more « high quality » products – presumably luxury and gourmet – and cooperate in manufacturing, energy and aerospace.

So a lot of cooperation. No suspicion of this « systemic rivalry » of which the evil EU in Brussels speaks.

Macron is getting closer to Xi

In a sign that Xi’s diplomatic strategy was paying off, Macron took a non-confrontational approach to Xi, even massaging the Chinese leader’s ego.

The Chinese Embassy in Paris has promoted a video by Douyin, the Chinese equivalent of TikTok, in which Macron conveyed his best wishes to China after Xi won a revolutionary new mandate. (Xi was nominated for a third term as general secretary of the Communist Party at a highly choreographed party convention.)

Macron also hailed Xi as a ‘sincere’ figure who should ‘mediate over the next few months’ to stop further Russian aggression against Ukraine – even though Beijing has shown no signs of being a good one. candidate for such a role since the war broke out in February.

Ignoring deadly tensions between China and India in the Himalayas, escalating tensions with Taiwan or military adventurism in the South China Sea, Macron said: “China calls for peace… [There is] a deep and sincere attachment to… the UN charter. »

Macron also told reporters he planned to visit China early next year. It looks like a response to the visit of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who visited China earlier this month. Scholz reportedly rejected Paris’s suggestion for a joint Macron-Scholz visit and decided to go alone with a big business delegation.

« Macron badly needed that airtime with Xi because he couldn’t be seen as left out by China while the Americans and Germans were in the headlines, » a Western diplomat said.

While Macron claimed Xi agreed with him on a « call for respect for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, » China’s own reading made no such mention. saying only: « China is for a ceasefire, an end to the conflict and peace talks ».

Brussels in a box

Unlike French, Spanish, Dutch and Italian leaders, Brussels-based EU chiefs were not consulted.

In a display of Beijing’s persistently negative view of the European Union, Xi decided not to go ahead with what POLITICO saw as an almost certain plan for Michel, the one representing all 27 countries, to meet with Xi.

This event, had it been allowed, would have been important in showing the possibility for smaller economies in the bloc to have their voices heard as well, as Xi would otherwise be busy dealing with the bigger players.

Xi’s change of heart about meeting Michel came shortly after the EU Council President’s pre-recorded speech was dropped at a trade expo in Shanghai. According to Reuters, he tried to call out Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine in his speech, a message deemed too sensitive to Chinese ears.

Commission Chair von der Leyen, meanwhile, hasn’t been busy planning a meeting with Xi, but a joint issue with Biden to focus on infrastructure funding for developing countries to compete. with China’s Belt and Road initiative.

In a thinly veiled critique of China’s approach to the New Silk Road, von der Leyen said: « The [West’s] Global Partnership for Infrastructure and Investment is an important geostrategic initiative in the age of strategic competition.

« Working with leading democracies, we offer value-driven, high-level, and transparent infrastructure partnerships for low- and middle-income countries, » she said.

His tone, however, proved to be a minority among European leaders during the G20 engagement with China.

« There is no common EU message on China, » said another EU diplomat in Bali. « But there never was. »

Much to the relief of European diplomats, at least Xi did not treat their bosses the same way he treated Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

« Everything we are discussing has been leaked to the newspaper; it’s not appropriate, » Xi told Trudeau through an interpreter in a clip recorded by Canadian media.

« It’s not…the way the conversation was conducted. If there’s any sincerity on your part… » Xi said, before Trudeau cut him off, defending the interest of his country to work « constructively » with Beijing.

Xi took his turn to interrupt. « Let’s create the conditions first, » Xi said.

Go stand in the corner, Justin.


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