How Xi Jinping’s Visit to Europe is Going to Shape Sino-EU Relations?

09/04/2019

After 5 years from his previous visit, last March, PRC’s President Xi Jinping landed in Europe to visit Italy, Monaco, and France marking a decisive step in the history of Sino-EU relations, which is going to have significant repercussions on the whole world

 

The Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has been the talk of the town lately. Last March, his trip to Europe marked a decisive moment in the history of Sino-European relations. But first and foremost, it has been significant for China’s worldwide recognition through its massive project of the Belt and Road Initiative.

After 5 years from his previous visit, President Xi landed in Italy on March 21 and then stopped to the Principality of Monaco and France. Although he spent just a few days in the Old Continent, the agreements reached will strengthen the Sino-European relations exerting a profound influence on both the bilateral and the multilateral levels, with significant repercussions on the whole world.

 

Xi Jinping's visit to Europe - Chinese delegation in Rome - cifnews

© Giuseppe Lami/ANSA. The European tour took place amid growing skepticism about China’s global influence, and after the European Commission branded China a “systemic rival”.

 

Without any doubt, the Chinese century has begun. After decades of China’s silence in the Western world and a general suspicion against the “Red Nation”, now the People’s Republic is playing its full role on the international stage. And for what concerns the Western hemisphere, the Dragon historically gives priority to Europe.

Nevertheless, in the last decades, at home, China was not silent at all. Since Deng Xiaoping’s reforms 40 years ago, the country rolled up its sleeves and, quietly but rapidly, it transformed its economy and society to become a worldwide power.

Today, Beijing excels in AI, robotics, and fintech. Over 800 million people have been risen out of poverty and the country is the world’s second-largest economy, ready to overtake the White House in the race to gain worldwide supremacy. Therefore, after having stabilized its economy building new hi-tech development scenarios, the Middle Kingdom is now ready to step outside its boundaries.

The occasion is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the Chinese massive project to build a mutual global market in the Eurasia region. The BRI map tracks three roads that will reach the heart of Europe from the Chinese hinterland; Africa from the Chinese sea; and that will also travel the polar road to Greenland.

 

The Belt and Road Initiative is considered the largest infrastructure and investment project in history. It currently involves about 70 countries and around 65% of the world’s population.

 

Launched in 2013 by Xi Jinping, the plan to build a renewed Silk Road is largely about building infrastructure in Asia, Europe, and East Africa – roads and railways, ports and airports, pipelines and power plants – but it also takes in other large projects, such as educational programs and the development of industrial and special economic zones.

The idea is to connect Chinese and international markets developing collaboration between the PRC and at least 70 other countries located in an area that accounts for one-third of the world’s GDP.

 

Xi Jinping's visit to Europe - Rome - italy - cifnews

© Unsplash. Colosseum, Rome. Italy signed with China the MoU, which, however, “does not constitute an international agreement from which rights and obligations under international law may derive”.

 

Some of the European countries already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Beijing including many countries from East Europe such as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, and Estonia other than Greece, Portugal, and Malta. However, this time, the Chinese leader traveled the EU again to strengthen ties with the core of the Union.

On March 21, the leader started his State visit from Italy, the country he considers to be one of the most important G20 countries and one of the EU pillar nations. Moreover, the trip occurred on the 15th anniversary since the establishment of the bilateral global Strategic Partnership signed in 2004, 49 years after the official institution of diplomatic relations between the two powers.

The Italian government has been the first G7 country to sign agreements with Beijing through a Memorandum of Understanding that even includes China’s State aid for Italian companies that operate or land in the PRC, the so-called “Panda bonds”. A symbol of the renewed Chinese opening to Italian exports is the arrival of the first container of Sicilian oranges at the port of Ningbo, in Eastern China.

 

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that President Xi’s visit to Europe sends a strong and clear signal: regardless of how the situation will develop internationally, China will always consider the relations it has with the Old Continent a priority.

 

After visiting Rome, the Chinese President quickly stopped in the Principality of Monaco to meet Prince Albert II. Since the economic partnership between the two countries is minimal, the first official visit of a Chinese president in the small Principality may seem strange to many. However, Monaco represents an important showcase for China’s hi-tech as it signed a deal to become the first country to be fully covered by Chinese 5G.

The last stop of China’s trip to Europe was France on the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Paris and Beijing. Here, President Macron took the unprecedented initiative to invite German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to meet with Xi Jinping in Paris on March 26th.

The goal of Xi’s visit was to strengthen cooperation under the Belt and Road umbrella and in other markets such as nuclear power, aeronautics and aerospace, agriculture, finance, and the sustainable development, in which the Franco-Chinese partnership has already achieved good results.

 

Xi Jinping's visit to europe - trade harbor - cifnews

© 123rf. To date, no Mediterranean harbor is among the 10 busiest maritime hubs in the world. Accession to the BRI would bring Italy back to the center of international trade.

 

On one hand, the meeting ended with an important result for France. China has indeed signed an agreement with Paris for the purchase of 290 Airbus A320s and 10 A350 airliners. The total value of the contracts is estimated at 30 billion euros and is higher than a first order agreed a year ago, during Macron’s visit to China.

On the other hand, for Germany the agreed trade with Beijing is worth 172 billion, with China in first place among its commercial partners while the US only ranks third.

Until now, in the European Union, the Chinese government signed agreements mainly in Hungary and the Visegrad group, which is a cultural and political alliance of four Central European countries. They have also invested in the Czech Republic, however, for Prague, Beijing was the third trading partner in 2017, but it is only the seventeenth market for Czech goods.

 

The “Three B”: from Beijing to Brussels trough Budapest. Hungary wants to be a strategic partner in the heart of Europe.

 

Nevertheless, today, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is expected in Brussels for a brief summit with EU leaders. Then, he will be in Croatia for a longer time, where he will participate in the 16+1 group of Central and Eastern European countries, the commercial formula that links to Beijing 11 members of the EU and 5 other countries still outside the Union and which has effectively become the East European platform for the implementation of the BRI.

These are two important meetings for Chinese commercial strategy in Europe, as part of a geo-political-commercial quadrangle composed by Zeebrugge in Belgium, Eastern Europe, Piraeus harbor in Greece, and the still missing piece, the Italian port of Trieste.

In Greece, China is financing the railway network – agreed with Hungary and Serbia under the 16+1 – which will link Piraeus to Budapest and Belgrade. But in this scheme, although Trieste harbor’s traffic represents only one-fifth of that of Piraeus, the PRC is attracted by the local rail network well-connected to its terminals and even more by Trieste’s status as a free port.

 

Xi Jinping's visit to Europe - hungary - cifnews

© Unsplash. As a champion of Chinese investment in Central and Eastern Europe, Hungary has long been an important partner for China in the latter’s “going-out” strategy.

 

So, Xi Jinping’s visits in Europe marks the birth of a world in which the People’s republic is not only an economic giant but also a political superpower with which it will be necessary to learn to coexist.

From one of the world’s poorest countries, China has become the only economic power capable of undermining the US. And to reach the goal to become an active participant in globalization, Beijing focused on Europe starting from the 16+1 partnership implemented in 2012, and since 2013, through the BRI.

All the countries, for one reason or another, are going to benefit from the Chinese interest as a new flow of know-how and advanced technologies are going to improve local economies. And with his last travel, Xi Jinping wanted to confirm the interest of China in being a decisive partner in this brand-new global network.

Although France and Germany remain skeptical, the Dragon is investing a massive amount of money in the EU and one of the things President Xi is also offering is a market that is huge, various, but most of all, hungry for the Made in Europe.

Chinese visits in the Old Continent represent a continuous effort to build win-win cooperation between nations, a relationship that is going to shape the world’s geopolitical situation towards the East, rather than towards the US, as it was until now.

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