这是用户在 2024-5-6 13:41 为 https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2024-05-02/xi-jinping-s-europe-tour-is-a-salvage-mission 保存的双语快照页面,由 沉浸式翻译 提供双语支持。了解如何保存?
Minxin Pei, Columnist

Xi’s European Tour Is a Salvage Mission

The best the Chinese leader can hope for is to prevent ties from deteriorating further and look for new opportunities if Donald Trump wins in November.

Xi’s last trip came at a happier time. 

Photographer: Alessia Pierdomenico/Bloomberg

When Chinese President Xi Jinping lands in the European Union this weekend, for the first time since 2019, he will find the geopolitics of the region altered beyond recognition. What might once have been a triumphal tour is now a salvage operation.

As recently as December 2020, with US-China tensions rising, Xi appeared to have secured Europe’s strategic neutrality by striking an investment agreement with the EU. Inked less than a month before the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the deal was rightfully seen as a slap in the face to the US and a huge boost for China.

Any hopes of a “win-win” Sino-European partnership are now beyond reach. The investment agreement has been shelved, thanks largely to China’s ill-advised retaliation after the European Parliament sanctioned Chinese officials accused of human rights violations in Xinjiang. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine struck the fatal blow: Europe sees China as Putin’s enabler because its surging trade with Russia has helped sustain the latter’s economy and war efforts.

Tensions are growing, not receding. In recent months, the EU has launched a series of investigations into China’s trade practices that could result in punitive tariffs on solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles. European investigators have raided the offices of a Chinese state-owned firm selling airport security equipment in Europe, while several individuals have recently been arrested for allegedly spying on behalf of China.

Still, Xi has reason to believe China has not totally lost Europe. As both parties have strong incentives to avoid a fundamentally adversarial relationship, they should at least be able to find a higher floor to stabilize ties.

Underlying this assessment is the assumption that Europe still hopes to find a middle course that falls somewhere between strategic neutrality and full commitment to the US position on China.

From the Chinese perspective, support for a new cold war with China is much weaker in Europe than in the US. Needlessly antagonizing Beijing to please the Americans will only drive Xi further into Putin’s arms, improving Russia’s odds in its war in Ukraine. Europe’s trade-to-GDP ratio in 2022 was 106%, compared to 27% in the US; economic decoupling from China is not a serious option.

China is also encouraged by the substantial differences on China between leaders of the EU and those of its two most important member states, Germany and France. Xi recently sat down with Chancellor Olaf Scholz; French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited China in April last year, will be Xi’s first and most important host on his tour. Both have sung a far friendlier tune on China than EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who first called for “ de-risking ” from China last year. And both are now looking to hedge against Donald Trump’s possible return to the White House.

__Placeholder Value__
Get the India Edition newsletter.
Get the India Edition newsletter.
Get the India Edition newsletter.
Menaka Doshi's insider's guide to the emerging economic powerhouse, delivered weekly.
Menaka Doshi's insider's guide to the emerging economic powerhouse, delivered weekly.
Menaka Doshi's insider's guide to the emerging economic powerhouse, delivered weekly.

Even if the emerging European strategy entails more hawkish trade policies, stricter controls on technology, harsher diplomatic rhetoric, and more aggressive measures to counter China’s influence operations than before, it is still likely to be less confrontational than anything emerging out of Washington, especially if Trump returns to office. While such a new “normal” in Sino-European ties may be less than ideal, Xi can surely live with it.

Stabilizing ties even at this new, lower level, however, will require painful tradeoffs.

The most important issue for Europe remains Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Beijing’s support for Moscow. Xi’s efforts to mend ties will yield little if he continues to provide Putin essential dual-use goods. It so happens that Putin is expected to lobby China for even more support when he visits Beijing later this month.

A powerful affirmation of China’s strategic partnership with Russia could discredit whatever reassurances Xi makes on his current trip. At the same time, he has little choice but to do whatever he can to keep Russia on China’s side. He will have to keep his promises vague enough so that neither Europe nor Russia feel entirely betrayed by China’s actions.

Trade should be a slightly easier issue to handle since Beijing still has the ability to offer concessions to European exporters keen on accessing the Chinese market. At the same time, high-end manufacturing is one of the few bright spots in China’s struggling economy. Xi is unlikely to limit exports enough to change many minds in Brussels.

The best Xi can hope for is to slow the deterioration in ties this year and wait for new opportunities to arise if there is a change in administration in Washington. He’d be wise to adjust his sights — and his promises — accordingly.

More From Bloomberg Opinion:

Want more Bloomberg Opinion? OPIN <GO>. Or you can subscribe to our daily newsletter .

    This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    Minxin Pei is professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and author of "The Sentinel State: Surveillance and the Survival of Dictatorship in China."
    Up Next
    A Clean Technology Trade War Shows How Empires Fall