During his visit to Europe, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi lined up a full schedule of meetings with European Union (EU) leaders as well as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo member and Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs director is also the highest-ranking Chinese politician to visit Europe following the 20th Party Congress last October.
Throughout his visit, Wang has signalled goodwill to key EU member states such as France, Italy and Germany, expressing China’s willingness to step up dialogue and cooperation. However, he has not held back in bluntly hitting out at the US for containing China. It is clear that he is attempting to bring Europe close while resisting the US.
Meeting European leaders
When Wang arrived in Paris on 15 February, France lifted entry restrictions on Chinese travellers — a “courtesy gift” to Wang to warm relations. Wang met with French President Emmanuel Macron, diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne and Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna.
Macron expressed hopes of strengthening bilateral cooperation in climate change, biodiversity, marine protection and other fields. Meanwhile, during the China-France Strategic Dialogue co-chaired by Wang and Bonne, the latter said that France was ready to take an active part in the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, and would coordinate more closely with China in international affairs. Colonna expressed that France hoped to see bilateral cooperation make new and great progress this and next year, to make up for the time lost due to the pandemic.
He expressed hope that China could restart dialogue and cooperation with these key EU member states, and worked to ameliorate the impact of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine...
In Italy, Wang met President Sergio Mattarella and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani. Mattarella agreed that both sides should resume various cooperation mechanisms as soon as possible and emphasised that EU-China cooperation was crucial to tackling global challenges. Meanwhile, Tajani stated that Italy looked forward to restarting bilateral cooperation mechanisms as soon as possible, promoting mutual investment and expanding trade.
Wang also met with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in Germany. Wang remarked that China has successfully overcome the impact of the pandemic and shown robust economic recovery, and both sides could actively prepare for a new round of intergovernmental consultations and chart the blueprint for the development of bilateral relations to keep China-Germany cooperation at the forefront of the world. On his part, Scholz affirmed that Germany would firmly develop economic and trade relations with China and oppose any form of decoupling.
Strong stance against US
Evidently, in handling China’s relations with countries such as France, Italy and Germany, Wang repeatedly emphasised that China has overcome the pandemic. He expressed hope that China could restart dialogue and cooperation with these key EU member states, and worked to ameliorate the impact of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine and bring China-Europe relations back on track to trade and economic cooperation.
However, Wang did not mince his words when it came to China-US relations and lashed out at the US for its suppression of China.
While Wang met with Blinken in Munich, China emphasised that it was an “informal contact” at the request of the US.
Blinken brought up to Wang the “unacceptable violation of US sovereignty and international law by the PRC high-altitude surveillance balloon in US territorial airspace”. He also underscored that “this irresponsible act must never again occur” and warned about “the implications and consequences if China provides material support to Russia or assistance with systemic sanctions evasion.”
Meanwhile, Wang set forth China’s “strong position” on the balloon incident, and called on the US to change course and “acknowledge and resolve the damage its abuse of force has done to China-US relations.”
Blinken also reaffirmed that there has been no change to the longstanding “one-China” policy, and underscored the importance of maintaining diplomatic dialogue and open lines of communication at all times. However, Chinese state media did not report whether Wang said that China and the US should maintain dialogue.
Besides expressing discontent to Blinken in person, Wang said at the Munich Security Conference that the balloon incident was a “political farce created by the US”, and that the US shooting down the balloon was “absurd and hysterical, and an abuse of force, clearly violating relevant international conventions”.
It is rare for a diplomat such as Wang to hit out so strongly at the US in front of so many political figures, experts and academics.
Wang also criticised the US CHIPS and Science Act as a means to “deploy state power to suppress Chinese companies” and that it is “100% self-serving unilateralism, a complete violation of the WTO rules and serious disruption of the stability of global industrial & supply chains”.
He concluded, “It is an irony of history that the US stands opposed to the free trade it has long advocated… The US has torn apart its disguise in [its] attempt to blatantly plunder.”
It is rare for a diplomat such as Wang to hit out so strongly at the US in front of so many political figures, experts and academics. This highlights that China has chosen a tough response to the US’s escalating measures to clamp down on China, and will no longer meekly seek to ease relations with the US.
However, resisting the US is not easy, nor is bringing Europe close. Amid the ongoing intense war in Ukraine, European countries such as France and Germany are pressuring China on the issue, hoping that China will not give Russia any military assistance. If China wants to bring Europe close, it has to balance Europe and Russia.
... it is to show that China will treat the two differently, so that Europe will not totally fall on the US’s side in containing China.
Wang reiterated China’s usual stand that it has always promoted peace talks. While the European countries will definitely not be satisfied with that, China will not easily drop its strategic partnership with Russia.
Notably, Wang’s efforts in bringing Europe close and resisting the US is not akin to resisting the US together with Europe; it is to show that China will treat the two differently, so that Europe will not totally fall on the US’s side in containing China.
At the same time, Wang’s stern rebuke of the US does not mean that it wants a complete falling out; it is another example of the CCP’s historical strategy of “seeking cooperation through conflict”. China definitely does not want China-US relations to completely break down, as that would seriously hinder or even disrupt China’s modernisation process. Whether bringing Europe close or resisting the US, China wants to work towards a relatively stable external environment.
This article was first published in Lianhe Zaobao as “王毅的拉欧抗美之旅”.
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