Editor's Note: Since late 2022, many European leaders have visited China. This episode of Reality Check analyses these events and discusses with you the reasons behind the intensive diplomatic engagements between China and Europe.
The bottom line is, Europe can't afford to de-couple from China.
Hey guys, welcome to Reality Check. I'm Huang Jiyuan. China has been a real popular destination for European leaders to visit these days. Since late last year, we've had many: German Chancellor, European Council President, and Spanish Prime Minister. The French President and European Commission President are here right now. And, according to reports, we might be getting the German Foreign Minister and EU's top diplomat soon.
Calling it a honeymoon may be going too far. So, let’s settle with a "new breaking-it-in" period.
Helga Zepp-LaRouche, Founder and President of the Schiller Institute, said that "I think the dominant trend in the European Union is an understanding that there is no positive alternative to a productive cooperation between China and the EU, given the size of the Chinese market with its largest purchasing power in the world."
In 2022, the China-EU trade was at $847.3 billion. China and EU were each other's second largest trading partners. China is one of the largest sources of tourists for Europe. In 2019, before the pandemic hit, China generated over 125 billion euros ($136.9 billion) in overseas spending. In France alone, that figure was about 3.5 billion ($3.8 billion), generated by 2.2 million Chinese visiting France.
Now, we used to talk about this as some sort of a frontier for China-EU relationships. But they are really the baseline today. Geopolitics changed it. The biggest two factors: The United States and the Ukraine crisis. And they are linked.
This is a description from the POLITICO about Emmanuel Macron's visit to China: On Ukraine, "White House aides ruefully recalled Macron's failed attempts to insert himself as a peacemaker with Putin;" On China, “some concern in the Biden administration about France's potential coziness with China at a time when tensions between Washington and Beijing are at their highest in decades."
You get America's attitude: First, the United States don't believe in forging peace; Second, the United States want Europe to toe the line when it comes to China.
But, that's not shared by all Europeans. This is a poll published on the European Parliament's website on March 17. 49 percent of Germans feel sending heavy weapons to Ukraine will increase the risk of Russian attack on Western states. 76 percent of Hungarians do not agree with EU buying more weapons for Ukraine. 53 percent of Germans believe the diplomatic efforts to end the Ukraine crisis do not go far enough. The cost of living now is seen as the biggest threat in EU's three largest economies: Germany, France and Italy.
Now, what do you think a worsening relationship with its second largest trade partner will do to the European Union?
Fu Cong, China's Ambassador to the EU, said in an recent interview that "I've been reaching out quite a lot and talking to different people. And I have to say I'm very encouraged by the wealth of enthusiasm and the warmth towards China by the European people… I've talked to politicians and member states of the EU. I'm also encouraged by the political support that having a good relationship between China and the EU is enjoying among the politicians and the governments."
The slew of European leaders visiting China one after another is a demonstration that Europe is trying to find a way that balances its needs with its political reality.
The Channel News Asia describes this as EU seeking a "reset" with China. It's not a reset. It's the two sides finding new paths forward under this new reality we are facing.
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