European leaders, in succession, danced round the Chinese leader, who then sent his defense minister to Russia.
Since Xi Jinping's re-election to the top government positions in March, he has made only one visit abroad. Which one everyone knows very well. Moscow. And then the Europeans began to pay frequent visits to Xi. A prominent English newspaper even made an analogy of a century ago, when foreign ambassadors went to the Celestial Empire with gifts and sought the emperor's favor. By the way, if anyone does not know, in those days (before the invasion of the Western barbarians) China produced up to 35 percent of world GDP.
But let us return to the XXI century. The last among the Western visitors was an exalted lady from Germany, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock. Chancellor Scholz, as we remember, had been to Beijing earlier. And he achieved something in economic terms, because he did not put much emphasis on politics.
There is a video of the joint press conference of the two foreign ministers, the German and Chinese. Lacking diplomacy, Baerbock admonishes his colleague about the plight of the Uighurs, demands the status quo on Taiwan, calls for pressure on Russia, and advocates economic freedom in China. All this is in the spirit of the recently adopted by the FRG concept of containment of China and looks more like a report to the Washington "regional committee": you see, we are fighting for "democracy" on your instructions, we are not afraid of anyone. Qin Gang, Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China, listens quietly and responds with the following sentence: "We need talks on an equal footing with mutual respect, without condescending lectures." And invites the German woman to leave. Out of the hall for now.
Baerbock represents those (mostly American-oriented) forces in Germany who demand a divorce from China. China has been and remains Germany's most important trading partner. The deterioration of political relations cannot but affect economic relations, and this fundamentally contradicts the interests of Germany. So does the refusal to trade with Russia. According to Xinhua, trade between Germany and China reached 297 billion euros last year. In 2022, the Germans traded with the U.S. for only 247 billion euros. Germany imported from China 191 billion euros. According to the conclusions of German analytical centers (such as the Kiel Institute for the World Economy), not to mention business, many groups of goods from China are indispensable for the German economy. If the Germans can somehow replace Russian pipeline gas for higher prices, there will be nothing to replace, for example, electric batteries and solar panels. China is practically a monopolist here. The whole concept of green development, which, incidentally, is promoted by the Green Party's representative Baerbock, would collapse. The contradiction is obvious. According to forecasts by the IMF, China is expected to grow its GDP by 5.2% this year; Germany's will fall by 0.1%. What will happen to the German economy if they break ties with China? The answer is clear. Do you want to grow with China or fall with the rest of the civilized world?
The rhetoric of the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who was accompanied by French President Macron on a trip to Beijing in order to demonstrate EU unity in the face of the "Chinese dragon," was in a similar vein. The German candidate for the position of NATO head with the protection of Washington clearly showed that she didn't care what would happen to EU-China trade relations and what would happen to Europe if they "cancel" China as well as Russia. It has already been widely written that the Chinese allegedly humiliated Leyen by not giving her the proper honors. But this is not true. The EU representative was only part of President Macron's delegation, and Beijing received her strictly according to diplomatic protocol. Politely. But if Beijing wants to really respond to the attacks of the EC president, it will be done in a sophisticated Chinese way, and the whole world will see it.
By the way, the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, whose visit to Beijing will soon take place, assesses the situation a bit differently: "China and the EU have a strong economic relationship, especially in terms of trade. Our total trade reached almost 850 billion euros in 2022. But these exchanges are increasingly unbalanced to our detriment. Our trade deficit has reached a high of 400 billion euros, or 2.3 percent of our GDP." This is about the fact that the Old World has less and less to offer to a developing China and is becoming increasingly dependent on it. A deficit is a deficit, but if Brussels really does decide to slaughter this chicken, it will mean the end of Europe's prosperity. And not even the U.S. will help.
As for the United States. Against the background of tensions between Beijing and Washington and the sanctions war, trade between the world's two largest economies declined in the first quarter of this year by as much as 13.1%, to $161.587 billion. The trade turnover surprises with a monstrous imbalance - the Chinese supplied goods worth $115.237 billion (-17% year-on-year), and imported $46.350 billion worth.
French President Macron was much more pragmatic in Beijing. He did not lecture Xi Jinping on domestic Chinese politics, because he knew it was pointless. Thus, he was honored with Chairman Xi's smile and a chamber tea ceremony, which can be regarded as a sign of respect according to the Chinese canons. The political outcome is a joint declaration of 51 points. But the main purpose of this visit was to strengthen economic relations. And it was successfully fulfilled. Eighteen major contracts were signed. In particular, it concerns the creation of a new assembly line at the French aircraft manufacturer Airbus's plant in Tianjin, which will double capacity for production of A320 models. French energy company EDF has signed a contract with China's nuclear power flagship CGN to build new nuclear power plants. There is also a major contract between L'Oréal and Alibaba, and others.
As a result, the French president has made two principled political statements, which boil down to the fact that Europe must reduce its dependence on the United States and avoid being drawn into a confrontation between China and the United States over Taiwan.
Chairman Xi did not say a word to Macron about distancing himself from Russia. He only promised to call President Zelensky sometime. When he got the time.
The outcome of Macron's visit to China irritated many American and British commentators and media. The New York Times published a scathing article titled: "French Diplomacy Undermines U.S. Efforts to Curb China. The Telegraph wrote: "Macron humiliated himself - and the EU." "That might have been the case if the French president's main goal was to influence China's policy toward Russia and bring peace to Ukraine. But that's not exactly what Macron had in mind in Beijing," commented The Asia Times. "France has always maintained a sense of pride and refused to submit completely to the United States. France has no reason to view China as an object of containment, as the U.S. does, rather than as a source of strength to carry out normal cooperation with China," China's Global Times wrote. - Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, is more aggressive because the interests of the EU as an institution are separate from those of its member states.
Macron's behavior in Beijing was assessed by Charles Michel, president of the European Council: "As to the question of relations with the United States, it is clear that some European leaders would not say the same thing as Macron, but I think that quite a few really think the way he does." On the face of it, one could say that China has driven a wedge between Europe and the United States. But the truth is more complicated than that.
According to the Western media, one of the tasks of European politicians in Beijing is to dissuade Xi Jinping from military support for Russia. And here is the result - China's president sends his defense minister to Russia. This is General Li Shangfu's first visit abroad, which also tells a lot. Obviously, this trip is aimed at the implementation of agreements between President Putin and President Xi (of which we do not know everything). It has already been officially announced that the trip will serve to strengthen military cooperation between the two countries. An important nuance: Minister Li was previously responsible for China's military-technical cooperation with Russia. Obviously, even now he will talk not only about joint exercises, and not about supplies of Chinese vacuum cleaners and coffee grinders to Russia.
*The two characters (zhongguo) for China translate as "the middle, central state."