Xi in Europe

China's head of state Xi Jinping travelled to Europe this week - making stops in Paris, Belgrade and Budapest. While at the start of his tour EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused him of 'flooding' Europe with subsidised goods and threatened to take 'tough measures', he received a warmer welcome in Serbia and Hungary, given that both countries are hoping to capitalise on Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative.

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hvg (HU) /

Balkan route is China's gateway to Europe

China is using economic levers to widen political rifts in Eastern Europe, observes Hvg:

“Xi has chosen the three destinations on his first trip to Europe since 2019 with the intention of deepening the cracks that have emerged in the Euro-Atlantic institutional structure. ... While Serbia is considered China's most important outpost in the Balkans, Hungary, the third stop on Xi's trip, plays the same role within the EU and Nato. ... The two regimes, which welcome Xi as a friend, will soon be physically linked by the Belgrade-Budapest railway line, which has been financed with Chinese loans and will be used to transport export goods from the Chinese-controlled port of Piraeus to the centre of Europe. For China is currently preparing its second major export offensive.”

Új Szó (SK) /

Xi's quandary

China's president is seeking solutions to his economic problems in Europe, foreign policy expert Botond Feledy explains in Új Szó:

“Let us not forget that the Chinese economic miracle is over! The construction sector, which was a major growth factor, is in disarray. Exports have been decimated as a result of Covid, and the geopolitical situation is making investors who leaned towards China increasingly wary. As a result, capital flowed out of the country at the end of last year for the first time in over two decades, not to mention the fact that the youth unemployment rate has exceeded 20 percent. ... So it's vital for Xi to export, otherwise the difficulties of the Chinese economy could translate into internal social tensions.”

The Irish Times (IE) /

Avoid escalation

Instead of imposing tariffs on Chinese products, the EU should encourage Beijing to curb exports, The Irish Times advises:

“The Commission has powerful measures at its disposal. But the member-states are divided, with German car manufacturers fearful they will suffer from any Chinese retaliation to tariffs or other measures. Xi paused the imposition of sanctions on French cognac but Beijing is likely to target European food and drink products in any trade war. Such an escalation should be avoided and since China has shown itself capable in the past of curbing manufacturing output when necessary, it should be encouraged to do so again.”

gazeta.ua (UA) /

Beijing evasive on war in Ukraine

Gazeta.ua criticises China's refusal to adopt a clear position on Russia's war in Ukraine:

“Xi has made a lot of correct statements about the need for peace, but stubbornly referred to the war in Ukraine as a 'conflict' and insisted that peace talks should take place at the right time and with Russia's participation. This means that Xi is sceptical about the peace summit in Switzerland and is unlikely to attend since the Russian side has not been invited. At the same time, he denied that he supports Russia [militarily].”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

The EU's new self-confidence

Macron and von der Leyen meeting Xi together sent a clear message that the EU and its member states won't be played off against each other, NRC comments approvingly:

“Their joint appearance in Paris marks the European Union's new self-confident stance. This stance may take some getting used to for countries like Germany and the Netherlands, but it is the only right one. ... Needless to say, in this multipolar context the EU must act as much as possible as a bloc to avoid being crushed. ... But symbolism is not enough. It's up to all member states not to ignore Macron's warning about the EU's vulnerability.”

Kleine Zeitung (AT) /

Trapped in a toxic relationship

It's illusory to see Europe and China as partners, the Kleine Zeitung argues:

“We shouldn't fool ourselves: the EU is in a weak position vis-à-vis China. On economic issues we can expect things to calm down sooner or later; ultimately both sides have an interest in maintaining their profitable ties, and this also applies to environmental regulations. As far as international policy is concerned, however, China does what suits its interests and not what Brussels or Washington deem necessary. They can't live with each other but they can't get by without each other either. Europe and China are trapped in a permanent, toxic relationship.”

Der Freitag (DE) /

China indifferent to Europe's admonishments

The West just doesn't know what tack to take with China, Freitag complains:

“The attacks seem petty and at times narrow-minded. ... Xi Jinping won't be monopolised, he is not a hegemonic figure, he neither recommends a canon of values to others nor does he presume to interfere in the internal affairs of other states, as German foreign policy is currently doing to the point of arrogance. This is why the West is often perceived as overbearing in Beijing, but it puts the West in its place calmly and with moderation, if at all. The fact that China rarely allows itself to be challenged in this respect, but instead reacts with calm sovereignty, should finally receive more attention in Paris, Brussels and Berlin, where they think they are the measure of all things.”

Peščanik (RS) /

Serbia's ruling camp blowing its own horn

Before Xi's visit to Belgrade, Serbian President Vučić gave an interview to the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV which according to pro-government media was viewed by 300 million Chinese. Pešćanik can't understand all the fuss:

“Even if all one and a half billion Chinese had watched Vučić, it wouldn't have made the slightest difference. ... And it's equally irrelevant whether he made a good impression on the 300 million who did watch him. China is not a democratic country. It's completely irrelevant how many people saw Vučić on television because they decide nothing - not just in relation to Serbia, but in general. Xi will meet Vučić today [Tuesday]. That's all that counts. What we haven't been told is whether Macron also gave an interview to CCTV, and if so, how many Chinese were impressed by him.”

Die Welt (DE) /

The West must integrate China

The daily paper Welt finds the idea that the West can stand up to China naive:

“The mega-rich country has built up an extensive network of alliances and dependencies in the emerging Global South. The West's strategy can now only be to integrate China: not with the obsolete goal of transforming Xi's dictatorship through trade, but so as to massively reduce the political and economic costs of competition from rival superpowers. And the EU has effective leverage: its enormous demand and innovative power, which China will continue to need so urgently in the future.”

Le Monde (FR) /

Speak up about oppression of the Uyghurs

Dilnur Reyhan, a sociologist with Uyghur roots, addresses Macron in Le Monde:

“Welcoming our executioner with all honours only reinforces the sense of injustice and powerlessness in the Uyghur diaspora. ... The message is that the lives of the Uyghur people are of little importance compared to billions of Chinese yuan. This policy of contempt is also one of complicity, because economic cooperation with China strengthens Chinese racial capitalism, which relies on forced labour. ... You, who recognised the tragic mistakes of French policy in Rwanda, must refuse to go down in history as the man who kept silent about the genocide of the Uyghurs despite being aware of it and who did nothing even though he could have.”

T24 (TR) /

Germany comes before Europe for Berlin

T24 comments on why Chancellor Scholz turned down Macron's invitation to Paris:

“Scholz favours a softer stance towards China. ... He prioritises Germany's national interests over those of the EU as a community because he fears that German investments in China could be affected. This is why Scholz allegedly abstained from raising the issue of human rights violations in China last month. In addition, the announcement of German sanctions against Huawei was postponed until after this visit. ... The fact that Scholz is not attending the meeting will be seen by the Chinese leader as a sign of weakness in EU unity, and he will no doubt be pleased about it.”

Népszava (HU) /

Questionable benefits of Hungary's ties to China

The way Hungary is rolling out the red carpet for China's businesses raises questions for Népszava:

“For China, Hungary has become a kind of assembly plant, and the government not only gladly and willingly accepts this role, it also accepts investments financed with Chinese loans that may never be paid off, just to spite Brussels. ... President Xi has realised that he can use Hungary to prevent the kind of unified European policy towards China that Macron envisions. This is certainly good for Xi, but how the Hungarian people can benefit is a different matter altogether.”

Le Figaro (FR) /

Nothing but empty promises

Le Figaro warns:

“Europe is only gradually beginning to wake up to this monster, whose aggressiveness is increasingly apparent - through its arms race, its claims in the China Sea, its theft of resources, the international activism of its spies and secret police. For 30 years, the West believed it could win China over to the rules of fair competition. Today, it sees how Beijing massively subsidises its industrial overcapacities before dumping them at low cost on our overly welcoming market. Will Macron be able to secure more than empty promises of 'reciprocity'? ... The chances are virtually nil, as are the chances of Beijing ending its crucial support for the Russian arms industry.”

Libération (FR) /

A strategic wait-and-see approach

Europe underestimates the threat posed by China, warns sinologist Marie Holzman in Libération:

“Its deceptive neutrality is allowing it to position its pawns for the future: if Russia defeats Ukraine, China's side will be strengthened and the Taiwan conflict can begin; if Putin's regime collapses (in the event of its defeat), China will have a free hand in Siberia. ... The stakes are colossal. It's time our politicians realised this.”

Politiken (DK) /

Europe lacks leadership

In a recent interview with The Economist, French President Emmanuel Macron pointed to three existential risks for Europe, one of which was China. Politiken bemoans the lack of resolute action that such strong words would seem to call for:

“Like German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Macron is much better at making speeches and promising change than turning his words into real policies. And that, more than anything else, is the problem: that the EU lacks energetic leaders at such a crucial moment in history, and that the Paris-Berlin axis of the EU is standing idle. Macron's analyses and ideas are correct. But where is the political power to realise them?”

La Stampa (IT) /

Macron's statements go down well in Beijing

Xi wants to use Macron to undermine Europe's partnership with the US, La Stampa is convinced:

“The positions of the two heads of state lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. Macron is considering sending ground troops to Ukraine, while Xi sees the arms deliveries to Kyiv as 'pouring petrol on the fire' and considers sanctions against Moscow illegitimate. However, China is pleased with the French president's repeated calls for strategic autonomy for the EU and often points out that Macron said during his visit to Beijing in April 2023 that being an ally of the US does not mean being its vassal. Xi wants to build on this to raise potential doubts among European leaders about the appropriateness of the strategic alignment with US foreign policy.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Divide and conquer

China is doing its utmost to avoid European sanctions, De Standaard observes:

“China has so far dismissed the European accusations regarding an unfavourable balance of trade, dangerous overcapacities and unfair competition as 'hype'. But internally, Beijing is very worried. And Xi Jinping's main aim in Paris will be to keep the pressure off by strategically exploiting the EU's internal divisions. And not just with subsequent visits to countries loyal to Russia, such as Hungary and Serbia. ... Using the classic strategy of 'divide and conquer', China is also trying to exploit the strong dependence of many large German export companies on the huge Chinese market.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

Avoid becoming a vassal of China

Jinping will also visit Hungary and Serbia, but Croatia should by no means attempt to emulate these countries' foreign policy, Jutarnji list advises:

“Budapest sees itself as a gateway to the East, and Serbia believes that China, like the West, will accept its multi-vector foreign policy. Putting aside all strategic issues, the worrying insight is that the Chinese president is visiting two countries that share his supportive stance for the war in Ukraine. ... In view of the global divisions, the only solution for small European states is a strong and unified EU and a strong Nato. Anything else will result in us becoming vassals of Russia and China.”