Et has already become a fixed ritual: the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj from Kyiv joins in at almost every meeting of the heads of state and government of the European Union. That was the case again on Thursday. Since the Russian invasion of the country on February 24, the situation in Ukraine has been the most important foreign policy issue at every European Council. This time, however, Council President Charles Michel wanted to broaden the horizon and scheduled a strategic debate on China for this Friday.
The government didn’t like that. One does not yet know at all what will come out of the Congress of the Communist Party, it was said to justify it. However, this seemed to be a pretense for many actors. In fact, the topic is particularly uncomfortable for Berlin. Because the policy pursued by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, which primarily relies on doing good business with Beijing, is moving further and further away from the European debate.
Warning to Berlin
The European External Action Service (EAD) has now prepared a five-page strategy paper for the bosses’ debate, which is available to the FAZ. The last sentence is a diplomatically veiled warning to Berlin: “The EU and its member states should prevent and contain Chinese attempts to use divide-and-conquer tactics against EU states, and they should refrain from isolated and uncoordinated initiatives. which could weaken our united stance.”
A senior EU official says countries like Germany have to make a choice: “The further they go towards China, the greater the risk of their economic dependency becomes.” He has no influence over the chancellor’s travel plans, the official said, but perhaps could Yes, some partners from the traffic light coalition have something to say about it. This alludes to the Greens, whose value-based foreign policy is difficult to reconcile with a trade trip by the chancellor. However, the Chancellery has always set the tone in China policy.
Even Scholz’s predecessor, Angela Merkel, was on the defensive on the subject. With France, she pushed through a comprehensive investment agreement with Beijing during the German Council Presidency in the second half of 2020 and wanted to hold a major meeting with President Xi Jinping in Leipzig. The summit was then canceled due to the pandemic, and the investment agreement did not come about due to a Chinese overreaction to EU sanctions for human rights violations in the Uyghur province of Xinjiang. That was in March 2021, and since then, European relations with Beijing have only gone downhill.
China launched a trade war against Lithuania for expanding its ties with Taiwan; on the eve of the attack on Ukraine, Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed on a “boundless” friendship. At the same time, the Chinese attempt to enter into a special relationship with East-Central European countries as part of the Silk Road Initiative collapsed. Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia demonstratively withdrew from the “17 plus 1” format.
Since then, the eastern states in particular, with the exception of Hungary, have been vehemently demanding a reorientation of policy towards China, right down to a “strategic decoupling”. Like the United States, they see the country as a strategic rival with whom there can be no common interests. The Western countries, above all Germany, France and Italy, have a different view, if only because their companies are much more closely linked to China and generate large profits there. Chancellor Olaf Scholz wants to travel to Beijing with a business delegation at the beginning of November, in the tradition of his predecessors. French President Emmanuel Macron is also preparing for a visit. Both are likely to be discussed in the European Council and are also viewed critically in other EU institutions.