China’s Xi Jinping speaks with Germany’s Angela Merkel in diplomatic push

14-Oct-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 5:53 AM Print This Post

Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday, as part of a diplomatic flurry between China and European Union leaders.

State broadcaster CCTV reported that in the virtual meeting Xi and Merkel reviewed the development of China-Germany relations in a “friendly atmosphere” and exchanged views on issues relating to the relationship.

The engagement between China and Europe follows last week’s meeting between China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and the announcement of a security alliance between the US, the UK and Australia that has angered France.

As previously reported by the South China Morning Post, Xi will also hold a call with European Council President Charles Michel on Friday, in a week of top-level diplomatic exchanges regarded as efforts by China to improve fraying ties.

It comes amid speculation that Xi will not travel to Europe for the G20 leaders’ summit at the end of the month or for the COP26 climate talks in November, leaving no opportunity for face-to-face talks.

A European diplomat briefed about the Xi-Merkel call said it had been arranged, at Xi’s request, to discuss issues related to the COP26 summit.

EU-China relations sank this year to arguably their lowest point in three decades with Brussels imposing sanctions on Chinese officials for their role in alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang the first such action taken by the EU since the arms embargo that followed the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989.

China responded with sweeping sanctions on a host of EU ambassadors, parliamentarians and academics, leading the European Parliament to stall consideration of an EU China investment pact that had been agreed to in principle at the end of 2020.

Alarmed by the deterioration in ties, in recent weeks the European Union has also sought ways to improve the relationship.

At an informal dinner in Slovenia last week, the bloc’s 27 national leaders discussed China strategy for the first time in a year. An official who attended said they talked about a need to “rebalance” ties with China, while the EU’s de facto foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell wrote in a blog post on Sunday that they “agreed that we must remain strong in our approach, based on the ‘partner, competitive, rival’ tryptic”.

“We must encourage dialogue and cooperation in certain areas like climate policy,” Borrell added. “But we should also be ready to push back when Chinese decisions run counter to our views, notably on human rights and geopolitical choices.”

The interaction between Xi and senior EU leaders comes during the fallout from the announcement of the Aukus alliance, which caused France to lose out on a lucrative submarine sale to Australia. French President Emmanuel Macron has redoubled his push for European “strategic autonomy” and his vision of the EU ploughing a furrow independent of both the US and China.

“The United States wants to confront China. The European Union wants to engage China,” French Foreign minister Bruno Le Maire told The New York Times in an interview published on Tuesday, adding that the EU must be “independent from the United States, able to defend its own interests, whether economic or strategic interests”.

For Merkel, who has helped to foster EU-China ties during her 16 years as German chancellor, it will be one of her last official engagements with Xi before she steps down. Her Christian Democrats suffered a chastening defeat in last month’s election, with Beijing anxiously watching for resolution on three-way coalition talks in Berlin.

The Social Democratic Party is negotiating for a governing coalition with the Green Party and the Free Democratic Party, which both advocate a tougher line on China.

While a radical overhaul in Germany’s China policy is not likely, some changes are expected. “If you’re steering a tanker and turn it five degrees in one direction, you end up in a completely different place,” said one person involved in the talks.

A German spokesman said the government would not comment on the call between the two leaders.

There is little unity on China policy in the EU. The concept of strategic autonomy is rejected by some Central and Eastern European nations like Lithuania and Poland, both of whom see the US as integral to European freedom.

China policy in Lithuania, in particular, is arguably more reflective of Washington than Brussels. One of the bloc’s smallest members, it has become embroiled in a diplomatic dispute with Beijing over Taiwan and has been pushing a tougher EU line on China.

Following the talks in Slovenia, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said that he thought “the recent events related to Lithuania have a certain impact on the general stance of the EU, given that we see increased aggressiveness on the part of China, its stronger wish to dictate its own terms and, of course, to play a bigger role in the world”.


Category: China

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