China Premier Li Qiang averts public clashes during his visit to Germany, France

World Monday 26/June/2023 10:55 AM
China Premier Li Qiang averts public clashes during his visit to Germany, France

Berlin: China Premier Li Qiang averted public clashes during his visit to Germany and France this week, reported Nikkei Asia, adding that analysts saw it as a sign of European nations' disinclination to estrange Beijing.

Li's first overseas trip since becoming the country's second leader in March is seen as highlighting German fears about exposure to the Chinese economy and France's will to cooperate with Beijing where possible, the report added. Since Li chose the six-day tour to the European Union's two leading powers -- Germany and France -- it shows the status of both countries, as well as, the problematic relations between Beijing and other European capitals, as per Nikkei Asia.

Moreover, Italy is currently discussing a withdrawal from China's infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and Eastern European countries are put off by Beijing's support for Moscow. Whereas, northern European countries are growing increasingly wary about China and Russia's ambitions in the Arctic.

Reinhard Biedermann, a German professor of International Relations at Tamkang University in Taipei, said, "This larger picture puts Germany and France into China's focus, with Germany being China's chess piece for preventing anti-China protectionism from slowing the Chinese economy further."

"France, for its part, is China's chess piece for the safeguarding of a Europe that is not drawn by the US against China," he added.

Analysts observed the extent to which the governments of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron went out of their way to accommodate China.

Li was received by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier as a curtain raiser for the seventh China-Germany intergovernmental consultation. After holding the talks, as many as 26 Chinese and German ministers, Scholz and Li then held a news conference. During that, journalists were not allowed to field questions, which was in clear breach of the China policy of Scholz's predecessor Angela Merkel, who had always insisted on doing news conferences according to Western standards, according to Nikkei Asia.

Scholz also presented Li with a rhetorical goody by emphasizing that Germany has no interest in economic decoupling from China.

Meanwhile, Scholz urged China to use more of its influence on Russia to stop the Ukraine war. Although, he did not publicly mention other topics, such as Taiwan, forced labour or strengthening Chinese industrial espionage against German companies, as recently expressed by Germany's domestic intelligence agency.

According to the German government, the two sides agreed to launch a climate dialogue and signed memorandums of understanding in the realms of electric and hydrogen mobility, as per Nikkei Asia.

Lutz Berners of Berners Consulting, who advises German government departments and businesses on China-related projects said, "There might be a big discrepancy in what has been made public about Li's visit and what the German government has said behind closed doors, but that Berlin agreed to use China's rules for press engagement means it has allowed to be pushed into a weak corner."

"Considering that Scholz had his inaugural visit to Beijing over half a year ago, and Li now completed his inaugural visit to Berlin with such a high-level delegation, it is notable how few tangible results have been presented," he added.

According to Nikkei Asia, Berners attributed the underwhelming results to the worsening economic situation in China which worries Berlin because of German companies' heavy exposure to the country. With a bilateral trade volume of nearly 300 billion euros ($328 billion), 2022 was the seventh consecutive year in which China was Germany's largest trade partner.

Furthermore, several German conglomerates, such as BASF, Merck, Siemens and BMW, have recently invested heavily in China or have announced plans to do so.

At a stopover in Munich, the Chinese Premier met with Siemens and BMW, as well as Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder, who echoed Scholz's rhetoric of opposing a decoupling from China.

Later, Li headed to Paris where he met France President Macron at a summit of the New Global Financing Pact, a Macron-initiated initiative. Its goal is to build a new contract between the countries of the Global North and South to address climate change, Nikkei Asia reported.

Macron highlighted that he wants France and Europe to deepen ties with China. Following his visit to China in April, he made headlines by saying that France should not follow the US in responding to Beijing's moves in the Taiwan Strait.

Like in Berlin, Li was given an unusually high-profile treatment in Paris, with French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin meeting him before a meeting with the president.

Macron surprised people when rushing down a staircase in an apparent attempt to personally open the door of Li's limousine despite protocolary standing one layer above Li, as per Nikkei Asia.

"Like Li's Berlin visit, also the Paris visit doesn't reflect the ongoing debate in Europe about de-risking from China, human rights, Taiwan tensions and China's extraterritorial police stations in Europe," said Marc Julienne, head of China Research at the Center for Asian Studies of the French Institute of International Relations.

"Macron and Li dealt with the positive topics only and brushed the sensitive ones under the carpet, which is probably partly explained by Macron needing China's help in making his new climate financing initiative a success," he added.