China's diplomatic overture: strengthening European bonds
Editor's Note: The writer is a freelance columnist on international affairs based in Karachi, Pakistan. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of Gwadar Pro.
The just-concluded six-day visit of Chinese Premier Li Qiang to Germany and France holds great significance for the intricate fabric of political and economic relations between China and Europe.
By intentionally selecting these two countries, which are perhaps the most vocal for European neutrality and independence, as his first-ever diplomatic destinations after assuming office, Premier Li has made a symbolic gesture of Beijing’s strategic intent towards Europe. This carefully orchestrated overture serves as a crucial component of China's broader drive-or charm offensive as per the Western media’s terminology-to address the misunderstandings and misinterpretations surrounding China within the Western world. His proactive engagements with European leaders presented an opportunity to both sides to bridge the gap and foster a deeper understanding of China's perspective.
This diplomatic overture was aimed at reducing misconception and forging a path toward more collaboration between China and the Western nations. Li Qiang's European voyage entailed three objectives: forging connections with political and business leaders in Berlin and Paris, co-chairing the seventh China-Germany inter-governmental consultation, and participating in the New Global Financing Pact Summit in Paris.
The world has been keenly observing this diplomatic undertaking from China in Europe, which has the potential for a more balanced and informed dialogue that could reshape global relations in a positive direction. For many years, Germany has stood as China's preeminent trading partner within the European Union. In fact, China has maintained its status as Germany's largest global trading partner for an impressive seven consecutive years.
In 2022, bilateral trade between the two nations soared to an impressive 300 billion euros ($327 billion). Additionally, Germany holds the distinction of being Europe's leading investor in the vast Chinese market. This symbiotic relationship between two economic powerhouses typifies the immense potential for collaboration between China and Germany – and Europe.
By fortifying ties with Germany and France, China is seeking economic benefits and shared prosperity, while creating a sort of counterbalance within the sphere of American influence in Europe. Embracing China's outreach is not only pragmatic but also holds the potential to reshape the economic landscape in ways that can yield long-lasting rewards for both parties involved. It was a very hectic trip by Li Qiang, who had unabated string of meetings, summits and then one-on-one meetings with German Chancellor Scholz and French President Macron as well. As expected, in all his personal interactions – particularly with Scholz and Macron -Premier Li received a very positive response. Scholz emphasized Germany's staunch opposition to decoupling, making it clear that "de-risking" does not equate to "de-Sinicization."
It is clear from the Scholz’s meeting with Li that Germany remains fully committed to enhancing ties with China and augmenting bilateral exchanges and cooperation, thereby paving the way for stable and mutually beneficial relations. The current series of diplomatic engagements between German and China-which included Chancellor Scholz’s visit to Beijing in December last year, then Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee visited Europe and met German leadership in February, followed by German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock ‘s visit to China in April -signifies a transformative phase of cooperation between the two countries-as well as between China and Europe.
German investment in China has reached a stable point, standing at approximately 90 billion euros, nearly triple the amount recorded in 2010. While this marks a period of slower growth, these investments have proven to be highly lucrative.
Similarly, the French leg of Li's visit was equally productive and successful. French President Macron displayed a generous receptiveness towards China's aspirations for increased collaboration with Europe, particularly in trade, technology, and supply chain realms. “In a world full of challenges, France and China should adhere to resultful multilateralism, promote international solidarity, improve global governance and promote solutions to global issues,” said Macron.
China is fervently advocating for enhanced collaboration with European nations, particularly France and Germany, encompassing both established sectors like nuclear energy, space, and aviation, as well as emerging fields such as environmental protection, digital economy, artificial intelligence, and advanced manufacturing. China has been actively encouraging its enterprises to invest in Europe, while warmly welcoming the European companies to partake in China's ever-expanding realm of development opportunities.
Li’s visit to the two most powerful economies of Europe indicates the seriousness with which Beijing is trying to enhance its commercial and political ties with Europe. The prevailing perception of China in Europe is undeniably colored by the overshadowing rivalry between the United States and China, where America's influence plays a significant role in shaping attitudes. This jealousy has inevitably skewed perspectives, potentially blinding Europeans to China's true intentions and obscuring the potential benefits of fruitful engagement and cooperation.
It is crucial to question the narrative dominated by American interests and consider a more nuanced understanding of China's role in the global arena. By eschewing the misguided narratives of decoupling and de-risking, European countries can forge ahead to build a foundation of trust and collaboration with China that can withstand the headwinds of geopolitical tensions and work for shared prosperity and shared development.