The message Europe should take from Xi’s visit

The message Europe should take from Xi’s visit

Xi's visit has sparked a debate on Europe's relations with the United States because it must be said that it has been mostly negative (AFP)
Xi’s visit has sparked a debate on Europe’s relations with the United States because it must be said that it has been mostly negative (AFP)

Was Xi Jinping’s first trip to Europe in five years a success? It certainly appears that Xi’s visits to France, Serbia and Hungary, which had both a commercial and political agenda, were fruitful for the Chinese leader. Can we say the same about France, the EU or Europe? Well, there is no simple or single answer. And this in itself reveals some of Europe’s serious contradictions on important geopolitical, security and trade issues.

There is no doubt that commerce and business are linked to politics and the theme was clear. It was interesting to note that French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen held a trilateral meeting with Xi on Monday, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was missing. Before the meeting, von der Leyen criticized Chinese state subsidies to the manufacturing sector, saying they led to market distortions and potential deindustrialization in Europe.

Discussions therefore revolved around reducing trade imbalances and Macron stressed the need to update EU-China relations due to Beijing’s massive exports to Europe. The opening of Chinese markets is a constant demand. The EU is considering imposing tariffs on Chinese electric vehicles due to concerns about state subsidies. Macron aimed to prevent Chinese retaliation following this investigation, which could affect French exports such as cognac. Yet it can be said that this is all part of the tensions between major trading blocs and that, despite the trade deficit, Europe needs China’s industrial capacity as much as China needs European markets.

We overestimate the impact and importance of Europe. The reality is that, even though Europe is the host, the agenda has been set by Beijing.

Khaled Abou Zahr

On a more delicate political level, reading the coverage of this visit by the European media, I could not help but think that it resembles Lebanese writings on Lebanese affairs, that is to say that it there is an overestimation of the impact and importance of Europe. The reality is that, even though Europe is the host, the agenda has been set by Beijing. We can live in the illusion of having an impact in this dialogue, but the reality is that Xi already knew exactly what the results would be.

The main topic was Ukraine and Russia. Macron sought to discuss China’s influence over Moscow regarding the conflict. This was quickly dismissed. The reality is that there is nothing that France or Europe can say or do that can influence China’s policy on this issue, simply because they cannot respect any agreement. Moreover, the conflict in Ukraine is pushing for a global strategic realignment that no amount of luxurious French hospitality can change. It also goes without saying that certain European actions have set a precedent that could be repeated. Although it is the only nuclear power in the EU, which gives France strategic importance, the question of pooling was raised by Xi’s visit.

There was also, as they say in Arabic, the absentee present at this visit, namely the United States. And therein lies the biggest strategic question: will the EU and Europe have to choose between China and the United States at some point? Today he can balance the two powers. However, the more the conflict in Ukraine escalates and the more measures are taken against Russia and its assets in Europe, the greater the risks for Europe of not being able to maintain positive bilateral relations. This is one thing that China knows: the transatlantic alignment constitutes, until today, the security of Europe.

It is true that Xi’s visit sparked a debate on Europe’s relations with the United States and this was a success for the Chinese leader because it must be said that it was mostly negative. The European position has become more distressing due to the growing ambiguity of the United States. We are seeing more and more analysts and commentators criticizing the transatlantic alliance, particularly those on the left and progressives, who believe that Europe must break free and break away from the United States. That would be a serious mistake.

The European position on the transatlantic alliance has become more distressing due to increasing ambiguity from the United States.

Khaled Abou Zahr

This line of thinking was clear during the second part of the Chinese leader’s visit. The same journalists described Serbia and Hungary as pro-Vladimir Putin and, to some extent, enemies of Europe. This was also a huge mistake. This is precisely what will create more risks for the future of Europe. Serbia may have historically close ties with Russia, but it has applied to become a member of the EU. And Belgrade must not be comfortable when it hears about possible accelerated access for Ukraine, even though it has been a candidate since 2012. And because of criticism of its electoral process or the need to normalization of relations within the Balkans, Serbia’s access to the EU seems to disappear. This attitude therefore opens the door for the Balkan country to seek other opportunities, such as with China.

Likewise, calling Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban anti-American is wrong. He is anti-progressive and there is a big difference. More precisely, he is conservative and this seems to be something that Europe no longer tolerates. These divisions constitute the real risk for the future of the EU and its stability. This divide is no longer between countries but between them and through them, and this extends to the United States between Republicans and Democrats.

The ambiguity of the United States and the deep internal divisions, as well as the challenges between national sovereignty and sharing with a single voice for Europe, highlight new challenges for the old continent. This will force choices in terms of alignment if the conflict in Ukraine worsens.

It was also a coincidence that Xi’s visit took place the week of May 8, the anniversary of the surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II fighting in Europe. It was one of the deadliest conflicts in human history. It is therefore important to remember the horrors of war and find ways to bring stability rather than allowing ourselves to spiral out of control. This, in my opinion, is the main message of Xi’s visit.

  • Khaled Abou Zahr is the founder of SpaceQuest Ventures, a space-focused investment platform. He is CEO of EurabiaMedia and editor-in-chief of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the authors in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Arab News.