China and Europe

China’s president Xi JinPing in the month of May was involved in two highly publicised ‘European’ diplomatic events.

Firstly he visited Europe. Europe was until recently a helpful 'ally' to China in its competition with the USA. "For years, amid its escalating trade battles with the United States, Beijing has been able to count on its other key Western trading partner, the 27-nation European Union, to keep economic relations on an even keel." But that is no longer true. An unmistakable chill has descended over China's relations with Europe. "A series of major jolts - the supply-chain effects of the pandemic, China's repression of Uyghur Muslims, its crackdown in Hong Kong, and above all its support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine - has hardened European attitudes toward Beijing among both the public and officials. And a major new trade grievance is further straining ties: the huge volume of China's state-subsidized exports of ‘future economy’ products, including solar panels and electric vehicles." 

The EU had previously initialled a new comprehensive trade agreement with Beijing. But EU ratification has stalled. “Beijing's recent support for Russia's Ukraine invasion has left the deal not just on ice, but seemingly in permafrost.”

President Xi began his European tour by calling on President Macron, the West European leader with whom he has built up his strongest personal relationship. But that relationship has also changed. Macron wants Xi to intervene politically with the Kremlin and bring its war on Ukraine to a halt.

Soon after Xi’s visit to Europe Vladimir Putin visited China, his first foreign destination since being sworn in as president for a fifth term, underlining the "unprecedentedly high level of the strategic partnership" between the two countries as well as his close friendship with Xi. From the Kremlin's point of view, the benefits of this relationship are clear. The benefits to China are also clear – and are very different from Russia's: "Russian gas in Chinese households, and Chinese electronics and cars on Russian roads" according to CCTV. 

“Beijing appears determined to side with Moscow against Washington. The Russian leader is widely regarded as a pariah after ordering the invasion of Ukraine. But to China's President Xi Jinping, Putin is a key partner in seeking a new world order that is not led by the US. Putin and Xi were ‘as close as brothers’." 

The two events, Xi's visit to Europe followed by Putin's visit to China, do not make sense together. Putin is increasingly viewed as the enemy of the world, therefore for China to embrace a quasi-alliance with Moscow is hardly the recipe to make more friends with Europe. Indeed “Putin's state visit to China last week has confirmed the worst fears of many diplomatic observers about the emergence of an anti-West axis between Beijing and Moscow. While Putin has made no secret about his stance since he invaded Ukraine two years ago, Beijing had been deliberately vague about where it actually stood.” 

A US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said that Beijing "cannot have it both ways – they cannot want to have relationships with Europe and other countries while simultaneously continuing to fuel the biggest threat to European security in a long time", referring to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. "The People's Republic of China cannot have its cake and eat it too", said Patel.

However during his visit Putin talked about “a new world” that was “taking shape before our eyes and becoming multipolar”. Xi referred to “unprecedented shifts” in the global geopolitical landscape saying that the world had entered “a new period of turbulence and change”. Perhaps Xi is defining his two seemingly contradictory European connections in May as his further steps towards that “new world order”.

Pray over China’s relationship with Europe.

Pray for Xi JinPing to consider carefully the gains and losses in his relationship with Putin.

Pray for the Gospel to spread widely through these two great and influential nations, Russia and China.

Source: South China Morning Post etc.

 

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