SecondManuel MacronThe French president had hoped his visit to China this week would demonstrate European solidarity and support for his efforts to reengage with the world’s second-largest economy. To underscore this, he invited European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to join him on a visit from April 5 to 7. Mr Macron said the two would speak with “one voice”.
The joint visit may instead highlight tensions in Europe over how to deal with China, given Europe’s escalating confrontation with the United States and support for Russia during the Ukraine war. Across much of the continent, public attitudes toward China have hardened and policies have strengthened, in part because of U.S. pressure.
However, many European governments and companies are keen to rebuild economic ties with China as it emerges from three years of isolation caused by severe covid-19 restrictions. They are also deeply wary of U.S. efforts to contain China militarily and technologically.
Mr Macron, on his first visit to China since 2019, and Mrs von der Leyen, her first in her current role, will still show solidarity during a tripartite meeting in Beijing on April 6. In particular, they are expected to press Xi to make it clear that China will not supply Russia with lethal weapons and to urge him to do more to end the war in Ukraine.
On the eve of his departure, in a show of Western cohesion, Mr Macron spoke to US President Joe Biden. The two expressed a “shared desire to engage China and accelerate the end of the war in Ukraine.” Meanwhile, Mrs von der Leyen spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.she says European Union Wants “a just peace that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
In Beijing, Mr Macron and Mrs von der Leyen are likely to echo Western calls for restraint over Taiwan, the self-governing island claimed by China. Its President Tsai Ing-wen was originally scheduled to meet with US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Los Angeles on April 5. China threatened to “resolutely counter”. It did not elaborate, but when former Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August, China fired missiles at Taiwan and simulated a blockade.
But with the deepening of European leaders’ visits to China, their differences on China issues will become more obvious. Mr Macron will accompany Mr Xi on a visit to southern China, where Mr Xi’s father spearheaded market-opening reforms. Mr Macron was traveling with 53 French executives. A lot of business deals are expected. Mr Macron is no Chinese dove. But he wants Europe to have “strategic autonomy”, while France wants to be a “counterbalancing force”. Unlike many American politicians, he does not seek to isolate or contain China. He thinks it could be a “game changer” when it comes to Ukraine.
In contrast, Mrs von der Leyen has proposed a more confrontational approach, which has already angered Chinese officials. In a speech on March 30, she said Europe wanted to “de-risk” rather than “decouple” its relationship with China. But she called for tighter controls on Europe’s technology trade with China. She also expressed doubts about a peace plan for Ukraine proposed by China in February. She said China’s stance on the war would be a “decisive factor” in its relationship with the United States European Union.
Some European Union Member states believe Mrs von der Leyen is too close to the Biden administration. But her speech reflected a shift in attitudes toward China across much of Europe. It started before the Ukraine war, when concerns grew over issues involving trade and Chinese political influence and espionage.
In 2019, the European Commission declared China a “systemic competitor”. Since then, the shift toward China has accelerated, especially in eastern and central European countries where China has failed to deliver on promised economic benefits. Most are now closely aligned with the US because of the Ukraine war.
China appeared taken aback by the tone of Mrs von der Leyen’s speech. Fu Cong, China’s ambassador to the United Nations, said it “contains a lot of distortion and misinterpretation of China’s policies” European Union. Disappointed China is her proposal European Unioncomprehensive investment agreement (Tsai) relationship with China should be reassessed.The agreement was reached in 2020, but in response China imposed sanctions on European entities and politicians European Union Sanction Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses in Xinjiang.Chinese diplomats recently suggested simultaneous lifting of sanctions to restore Tsai.
The speech could complicate Mr Macron’s plans.He had hoped to demonstrate the kind of unity he forged during Xi Jinping’s visit to Paris in 2019, when he ensured that Germany and European Union The leader was there to join him. Last fall, Mr Macron wanted to visit China with Germany’s current chancellor, Olaf Schulz. But Mr. Schultz insisted on going alone.
In theory, Mrs von der Leyen’s speech could still work in Macron’s favor, as it could divert public attention from Macron’s efforts to revive business ties and encourage Xi’s visit to be a success. China increasingly sees Macron as its main backer in Europe as its biggest economic partner, Germany, is preoccupied with the political debate over its China strategy.
Meanwhile, as protests at home over his pension reforms continue, pressure mounts on Mr Macron to ensure China makes meaningful commitments to Ukraine. As Xi conveyed to Scholz, it needs to go beyond simple expressions of opposition to nuclear threats or nuclear attacks.
One possibility is for Mr. Xi to make a personal pledge, similar to those already made by some Chinese officials, not to supply arms to Russia. Another option is for Xi to arrange a virtual meeting with Zelensky. Some foreign officials had expected these things to happen shortly after Mr. Xi visited Moscow in March.
Still, Xi will refrain from making any remarks that could damage his relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. When Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez visited Beijing on March 30-31, he urged Xi to meet with Mr Zelensky and recommend the Ukrainian leader’s peace plan, which calls for the restoration of the country’s pre-2014 borders. But China has not responded publicly.
If Xi does back down on Ukraine, Macron’s visit is likely to encourage Europeans to support economic re-engagement with China and worry about getting too close to the US — especially if Donald Trump wins the presidency in 2024. There is a trend in Europe to take a tougher stance toward China, but this could limit the speed and scope of change. It could also complicate Biden’s efforts to keep Europe engaged if restrictions on technology trade with China are tightened further, as expected.
If Mr Macron cannot win at least verbal concessions from China on Ukraine, he could undercut the case for closer economic ties with China. He is also likely to face more criticism after he failed to convince Putin not to go to war. Noah Barkin of the Rhodium Group, a research firm, said Xi would no doubt take advantage of any signal from France that it was willing to re-engage economically. “The question is: Will Macron offer something and get nothing in return?” ■
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