A tale of two Europes. It was bad in France, but Xi Jinping found other “friends” to talk to

After his first official visit to the European continent in five years and two days of fruitless meetings in France, the Chinese president landed in Serbia’s capital before heading to Hungary. The second leg of the tour, “Beijing’s two most loyal allies in Europe”, is full of symbolism and carries important messages for the EU, US and NATO.

When Xi Jinping bid farewell to Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday after a two-day official visit to France, he was not entitled to the usual photograph that records these diplomatic encounters for posterity. After French President and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tried to convince her Chinese counterpart to align with Europe to the detriment of Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the absence of an official portrait was “a sign of state visitation. It failed to remove the ominous clouds hanging over a full, bilateral relationship.” China, wrote this Wednesday Le Monde.

Hours later, the Chinese head of state left for Serbia’s capital, which has been off the map since Xi visited the continent in five years. It was 2019, before the pandemic and the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the Chinese leader was received in a “rose-colored setting” in France and Italy, explains Matej Simalic, executive director of the Central European Institute of Asian Studies. (SUPPERS).

In Paris, Xi “saw the signing of multimillion-dollar trade deals, including an order for 300 Airbus planes worth 30 billion euros.” The visit to Rome “paid off” and Italy became the first G7 state to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – a year earlier, during the G’s first official visit to Portugal, Lisbon also joined. Dubbed the New Silk Road, the company opens the door to a Portuguese-speaking market of more than 280 million consumers (following the war in Ukraine, which will end. Stay away from the project)

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This time, the visit to France was far from a bed of roses – in half a decade, a lot has changed. “Relations between the EU and China have become more complex,” Szymalczyk explains. “Italy will leave the BRI in 2023, before the three Baltic countries leave the China-CEE Cooperation Platform, which is part of the BRI.”

Since then, “the EU has adopted a series of new tools to protect itself from the interference and weaponization of China and other authoritarian states – particularly as a sign of a significant decline in views on China in Europe due to the Covid pandemic and China’s support for Russia in its aggression against Ukraine”, the analyst points out.

After the end of his visit to France, the second leg of Xi’s European tour began this Wednesday, a clear demonstration that the Chinese president “communicates with two different versions of Europe”, highlights Šimalčík. “While in France he was pressed by Macron and Von der Leyen on a series of controversial issues, including economic dependence and the situation in Ukraine, Serbia and Hungary in Belgrade and Budapest Xi will be very warmly received in Beijing. Loyal allies in Europe.”

Xi Jinping was welcomed by the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, and people in Belgrade (Serbian Presidency) this Wednesday.

“Together we challenged power politics”

A trip to the capitals of Central and Eastern Europe is full of landmarks. In Serbia, the visit coincides with the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by NATO forces 25 years ago. Soon, in Hungary, it will coincide with the 75th anniversary of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries – which could prove to be a “milestone” with “significant global implications”, the Chinese ambassador argued in Budapest a week ago. In a press conference.

The importance of Xi’s reception by Viktor Orbán in the week of Europe Day and the 20th anniversary of Hungary’s accession to the EU cannot be understated, with what analysts say is a “clear and challenging message” for the continent. “These visits will allow Xi Jinping to challenge the critical policies towards China pursued in the EU, while also giving an impression of the lack of consensus in Europe regarding China,” the director said. CEIAS.

“For China, the visit to Serbia is an opportunity to denounce NATO and its alleged expansion in the Indo-Pacific region,” the Atlantic alliance is now strengthening ties with Australia in the face of Beijing’s sovereignty claims in the region. Japan, New Zealand and South Korea are preparing to unveil new bilateral plans in Hungary, “presenting them as a success story of economic cooperation” with the European partner.

Addressing the idea of ​​two Europes were the speeches of its protagonists from the beginning of the week. On Monday, on a day of official meetings between Chinese representatives and French officials, Xi noted that the world must avoid a “new Cold War” in a renewed effort to convince European governments to abandon the US foreign policy, which the Chinese see as a weapon to contain its rise.

Ahead of his arrival in Budapest this Wednesday, he praised the Orbán government’s commitment to the “independence” of Hungarian foreign policy and to “challenging power”. In a letter published in the media by the Hungarian group Magyar Nemzet, the Chinese president asks Orbán to “guide” the relations of Central and Eastern European countries with his country. “We have faced difficulties together and together we have challenged power politics in an environment of volatile international relations. We have found our own way for sovereign nations to freely conduct friendly exchanges with other nations.

Hungary’s prime minister was the only European leader to attend the Silk and Road Initiative forum in Beijing seven months ago — the only person to meet Vladimir Putin since the war in Ukraine (AP) began.

“If you ask us about China, we don’t have complex answers”

The message couldn’t be clearer – “a reference to how Orbán, Europe’s longest-serving prime minister, has defied pressure from Brussels, the US and NATO to maintain friendly relations with Moscow and deepen its trade ties with China”, he writes. Financial Times.

This was demonstrated by his meeting with Putin in October on the sidelines of the BRI forum in Beijing, where Orban was the only European leader to attend. In the same letter published this Wednesday, Xi writes that “our two countries must lead regional cooperation” to ensure “solid” ties between Beijing and the European Union.

During his meetings with Macron and Von der Leyen, Xi did not address any points of contention with the bloc, including flooding the European market with cheap products and growing exchanges with Moscow. Brussels’ eyes on helping Russians avoid Western sanctions since the start of the war in Ukraine in 2022.

Upon his arrival in Serbia, which is not a member of the European Union, the Chinese leader was greeted with applause. “If you ask us about China, we don’t have complicated answers,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said. “As a small country, we have many problems, so we invited our best friends, Mr. President. There is a strong sense of friendship between our countries.

This friendship has translated into important deals for China, including the participation of Chinese companies in the construction of Belgrade’s first metro and the Serbian purchase of Chinese high-speed trains connecting Belgrade to Budapest. More relevant economic partnership announcements.

According to Beijing’s calculations, foreign direct investment accumulated by Chinese companies in Hungary could reach 30 billion euros by the end of the year – and by the end of the week, Orban and Xi Jinping could sign at least 16 new deals. Energy, Industry and Infrastructure and Construction sectors.

The launch of the Beijing-Budapest cooperation program is expected to “cover the entire nuclear portfolio,” Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjardo said, without giving further details on what business would be developed during the visit: “Specific companies during talks and negotiations, before any agreement is reached, are against Hungary’s national interests. .

For Matej Šimalčík, all this “will help mitigate some of the damage to China’s image caused by deteriorating relations with other EU member states”. “It will allow Xi to end this trip to Europe gracefully,” after the chaos in France.

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