by Dr. Sebastien Goulard
For his first visit abroad since the global disease outbreak, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi chose Europe. From August 25 to September 1, Wang Yi visited not less than 5 countries to develop China-Europe relations, and prepare the EU-China special summit that will be (virtually) held in Leipzig, Germany on September 14, 2020. This event was postponed because of the Covid-19.
One Week, Five destinations
Foreign Minister Wang Yi started his trip to Europe with a first stop in Italy where he met with his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio and talked by phone with Prime Minister Conte. They agreed to support multilateralism and discussed about the Covid-19 crisis and the situation in Hong Kong. Both parties pledged to further develop together the Belt and Road Initiative and make the BRI a major axis for China-Italy cooperation.
Wang Yi then flew to the Netherlands and met with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Foreign Minister Stef Blok. The Netherlands being home to Europe’s largest port (Rotterdam), Chinese and Dutch leaders focused their discussion on the need to resume the flow of goods between Europe and China. They also talked about other possible cooperation topics including aerospace and education.
Wang Yi’s third European destination was Norway, a non-EU member state, where he met with Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Foreign Minister Ine Soreide. They mainly talked about accelerating negotiations to reach a free-trade agreement. The first round of negotiations was launched in 2008, and an agreement was supposed to get reached in 2020, however because of Covid-19 crisis, some negotiation rounds have been postponed. Wang Yi and Norwegian leaders talked about trade, taxation, an also maritime matters and sustainability.
Before heading to Germany, Chinese State Councilor first stopped in Paris to have some talks with French President Macron, Foreign Minister Le Drian, Constitutional Council President Fabius, to talk about trade, Covid-29 pandemic, and technologies. Chinese and French leaders also had meaningful talks about world affairs, including the situation in Iran, Mali and Lebanon. Both countries, UN Permanent Security Council members are committed to supporting multilateralism and promoting peace worldwide.
Wang Yi’s last destination was Germany (that currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union) to meet German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. Germany is China’s largest trade partner in Europe and both countries are willing to accelerate post-Covid19 world economic rebound.
During this intense week, Foreign Minister Wang Yi addressed European concerns about some Chinese internal affairs matters, but more importantly called for upholding multilateralism and increasing trade between Europe and China.
Both parties are still looking for concluding the negotiations for the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. This new agreement would strengthen exchanges between China and Europe and give European companies a wider access to the Chinese market. China and the EU are still concerned about reciprocity and want to lift every remaining obstacle to EU-China trade.
The EU-China relations tomorrow
Wang Yi’s visit to Europe occurred during a troubled time for US-China relations. The two superpowers disagree on many matters and do not present the same vision for the world. China foreign minister’s visit to Europe shows that Beijing is eager to developing a new partnership with Europe. This is a not-to-be-missed opportunity for Europe. It is time for Europe to develop its own approach to China, protect its own interests and stop following the US policy.
The EU-China trade flows are the most important in the world ; with stronger cooperation, Europe and China are capable of shaping world trade and promoting multilateralism.
But to achieve this goal European Union member states need to better coordinate their policy regarding China. Important decisions, projects or visits have to be planned at the European level, not at the national one. For China, only a united Europe will be a reliable partner.
Time to join the BRI?
During his visit to Europe, State Councilor Wang Yi offered to European leaders to work jointly for world economic recovery. This can only be achieved by increasing trade between Europe and China that is why Wang Yi and Italian Prime Minister agreed on strengthening cooperation for the development of the new Silk Road. Similar actions may be taken by other European countries and the new Silk Road may become a major axis for world economic recovery.
During the Covid-19 crisis, intercontinental rail freight connecting China to Europe enjoyed rapid growth. Coordinated policies may be implemented to support this trend in a post-Covid19 context.
The Belt and Road Initiative may become an interesting framework for China and the EU to increase their cooperation.
A major point that must addressed in the next month will be a possible articulation between the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment and the Belt and Road Initiative: this will give European companies a wide access to the most vibrant markets in China and Asia.