The July 5 (video) summit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, on the one hand, and French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on the other, is not an ordinary event in the series of others on the table of the “Great Game.”
Strange as it may seem, the first of these is due to the absence of any “peculiarities” in the Chinese policy of the new US administration. It means that after several months of behind-the-scenes struggle between its various factions, the support to continue the same hard-line course against the primary geopolitical opponent pursued by the previous Republican administration has won.
This was clearly demonstrated at the first bilateral ministerial meeting in Anchorage as well as in the continuation of Taiwan’s comprehensive support. Moreover, the particular importance of the Taiwan issue for Beijing was once again highlighted in a particularly extreme form by the Chinese leader during his speech at the Communist Party of China centennial celebrations.
Although there is occasional talk about the resumption of bilateral dialogue initiated by the previous administration to resolve problems in the trade and economic area, Beijing has apparently come to the conclusion that a particularly noticeable positive development in relations with Washington is not to be expected, and there is a need to step up into other essential areas of the global game table.
In this regard, it seems noteworthy that the first to receive the attention of Beijing after the mentioned celebrations were the two leading countries of the “Old Europe”, while the conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, which took place immediately before them, was of no less importance. The “Old Europeans” are also currently in a search for the best course, given the ongoing “divorce” from the United Kingdom (one of the recent prominent members of the EU), the complication of relations with the United States, and the continuing uncertainty in the format of interaction with Russia.
This last component of the political quest of “Old Europe” is complicated by the fact that the same overseas “big brother” has placed in the way of its rapprochement with Russia a pack of noisy “Tabaquis,” who also try to engage in their own small political and economic “business” based on primitive racketeering. Which provokes associations with the “Nightingale the Robber” of Russian fables, who was engaged in approximately the same activities in the same places. By the way, he ended up badly.
The potential prospect of Russian-European rapprochement is also unlikely to suit London, which after Brexit seems to be returning to its traditional policy of preventing the formation of a certain dominant force on the continent (for which the same “Tabaquis” are used). It is quite possible to expect a growing divergence between the UK and “Old Europe” in the nature of the formation of relations with the Russian Federation.
Another, no less important reason for such discrepancies may be the differences in approaches to building relations with the PRC, which (differences) have become apparent. Although there are elements of wariness in Paris and Berlin’s relations with Beijing (the reasons for which have been repeatedly discussed in NEO, in London, they take on shades of an open confrontation. This is evident in the words of the latest Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, Global Britain in a Competitive Age, and in the deeds. The most striking example of the latter was the apparently anti-Chinese motivation of the seven-month campaign beginning on May 22 by the naval strike group led by leading ship HMS Queen Elizabeth l.
The UK government will compensate the inevitable costs of a course that is confrontational with the People’s Republic of China by developing relations with India and Japan. It should be noted that both of these countries are in complicated relations with the People’s Republic of China. Let us pay special attention to the July 1 act of admission of the UK as a member in the regional association the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), of which Japan is the informal leader.
Still, so far there have only been some discrepancies in the approaches to building relations with China (and Russia) among the “Old Europeans,” the British, and the United States. The overall picture is far from clear and continues to show contradictory trends. This is because there are various factions in the establishment, not only in the United States but also in the UK and other leading European countries.
One noteworthy example was the July 6 (i.e., the day after the Xi Jinping-Dialogue with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel) videoconference with a group of representatives of the UK business community and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang. The event is described as “the first business event this year between the two countries in the absence of high-level diplomatic dialogue.” The two sides touched on virtually all aspects of bilateral relations, including the situation in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, which serves today as almost their primary irritant. However, from what can be gathered, no emphasis was put on this irritant, which is what the UK political authorities have been doing lately.
China believes that the British government is under pressure from Washington, particularly as regards the refusal to allow the Chinese IT giant Huawei to create a 5G communications network in the UK. Nevertheless, during the videoconference, hope was expressed for the possibility of developing trade and economic relations, despite the presence of political problems in bilateral relations. It was noted that even today, China is the largest trade partner of the UK, and London ranks second (after Berlin) among the European partners of Beijing.
Commentators did not lose sight of the moment chosen for the Sino-British video conference mentioned. It should be noted that only a month and a half earlier, the European Parliament blocked the ratification of the bilateral Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, CAI (because Beijing had imposed sanctions on certain EU officials who were particularly active in the “Uyghur genocide” issue). Signed last December 30, it was seen as a “breakthrough” act in relations between the People’s Republic of China and the EU (that is, by and large, the same with France and Germany).
It seems noteworthy that the topic of the afterlife of CAI during the Xi Jinping-E video summit with Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel was raised by both European interlocutors of the Chinese leader, who, according to the Xinhua News Agency, bypassed it tacitly. The German Chancellor hoped that the CAI would be approved in the near future and, apparently, even before the forthcoming next (23rd) summit (mentioned by her) in the EU-PRC format.
President Xi Jinping advocated the further development of Sino-European relations based on the principles of mutual respect and finding common ground, “adequately assessing each other’s differences, rationally resolving differences and ensuring the advancement of bilateral ties.”
The central place at this event was taken by the generalized problems of the COVID-19 pandemic and issues of building Sino-European cooperation to overcome its various manifestations and consequences. Particular attention was paid to cooperation in restoring economic activity affected by restrictive “antidiscrimination” measures and comprehensive assistance to the Third World countries, especially those in Africa.
In general, the recent dialogues between representatives of the now two parts of what was once a united Europe and the leadership of the People’s Republic of China show that all participants in these events are, to reiterate, in search of the best strategy of action in a rapidly changing world.
And it is too early to speak even about the intermediate results of this kind of search.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.