March 2019,

Xi Jinping

flew to Paris to meet the French president…

Emmanuel Macron,

Chancellor

Angela Merkel

and the then President of the European Commission,

Jean-Claude Juncker.

After a toast with a glass of champagne, the Chinese president put pressure on the three leaders, according to the official presence. A recent EU position paper describes China as a systemic competitor. Were the Europeans really serious?

Merkel congratulated Mr. Xi and said that the language showed that Europe recognized the growing strength and influence of China, the official said. Mr Juncker has dispelled the tension by joking about the EU’s inability to agree on what China is. But Mr. Macron was forthright, the officer remembered.

That’s true, the French president said. You’re the competition.

A few weeks later, France sent a warship into the Strait of Taiwan, provoking Beijing, which accused the frigate of illegally entering Chinese waters.

In China, Mr Xi’s authority is increasingly seen as absolute. It has sidelined rivals, silenced dissidents and increased its popularity by promoting a reborn China that is not afraid to stand up for its interests.

The biggest challenge for his vision of China does not come from his own country, but from other parts of the world, in countries whose vision of Beijing has changed drastically in a few years.

Countries that once avoided angering Beijing are now moving closer to Washington’s tougher and largely bipartisan position of restricting China’s access to sensitive customers, technologies and infrastructure.

loss of confidence

Percentage of those who do not trust Chinese President Xi Jinping to do the right thing in world politics.

Pay attention: Belgium and Denmark did not show up because they were not interviewed before 2020. In Italy, data from telephone surveys in 2020; preliminary data from personal surveys.

Source: Pew Research Center telephone surveys, most recently with 14,276 adults in the 10th. From 1 to 3 June. August 2020 in 14 advanced economies; error rate: +/- 3.7 p.p.

Australia, which is economically dependent on China, was one of the first countries to ban Huawei Technology Co. from its territory and has called on China worldwide to carry out a study on the first treatment of the coronavirus. India, once a pillar of the Global Non-Aligned Movement, is expanding its military cooperation with the United States and its allies, while at the same time arguing with China over disputed borders.

Europe is now trading roughly as much with China as with America and is about to conclude an investment pact with Beijing that would further deepen these economic ties. At the same time, the continent has erected new barriers to Chinese takeovers and technologies.

The United Kingdom and France have withdrawn from Huawei’s ability to compete in Europe, and while Germany remains cautious, the debate about Europe’s dependence on China is becoming increasingly intense. This summer, after Beijing restricted freedoms in Hong Kong, the EU countries unanimously supported the sanctions – a measure previously unthinkable.

Foreign leaders cite complaints about the initial treatment of Covid-19 by the Xi government, restrictions on Muslim minorities in Xinjiang and defenders of democracy in Hong Kong, and increasing competition from Chinese companies that were once customers. The Chinese diplomacy of the Warrior of the Wolf, named after the series of nationalist Chinese films, gave many politicians and businessmen the feeling that they were being targeted.

The EU Ambassador in Beijing said that what has happened over the past year has been a huge interruption or reduction in support to China in Europe and elsewhere in the world,

Nicolas Chapuys,

said at the Energy Forum in Beijing earlier this month. And I say this to all my Chinese friends, you should seriously consider this.

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Nicolas Chapuis, EU ambassador to China, said that support for China in Europe has been widely interrupted or reduced.

Photo:

Jason Lee/Reuters.

A survey by the Pew Research Center in October showed that Xi did not believe that its unemployment rate had peaked in almost all the countries surveyed.

China has become the first lifeline for the United States in our diplomatic talks with Europeans, said the former U.S. Secretary of State for European Affairs.

Wess Mitchell,

who resigned last year. Our best ally in trying to make China the problem is our own behavior.

China said that negative views on Beijing are a problem, especially in Western countries, and are fuelled by Washington. A senior Ministry of Foreign Affairs official said that many Chinese diplomats are attached to a growing population in the country and a leadership that wants to demonstrate China’s growing credibility, even at the expense of being involved with officials abroad.

Chinese officials stressed that Beijing is holding back Covid-19 and providing aid and investment worldwide. In response to questions for this article, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that it sees Europe as a strategic partner and not as a rival, and has defended its approach to international relations. The body of Chinese diplomacy is soft, but the bones are hard, it has been said.

There are limits to the confrontation with Beijing. China’s economy could mean that most countries cannot afford to push too hard, and a large part of the world is looking to Beijing to finance infrastructure or gain access to the Covid-19 vaccine. America’s European allies have their own differences with Washington and have often avoided pressure from the trump card administration to coordinate China’s policies.

German Chancellor Merkel remains committed to dialogue with Beijing, said EU leaders. It has been a major driving force behind the conclusion by the EU of an investment pact that would strengthen links between the European and Chinese economies, and calls for an agreement to be reached before the new US President takes office. Yet in Germany, where there are 5,200 companies, there is growing concern about China’s market power. And some European legislators threaten to block the adoption of the treaty if it reaches them.

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President Xi meets German Chancellor Merkel in Beijing in 2018. Ms Merkel continues to support Beijing’s involvement.

Photo:

Jason Lee/Reuters.

Previously, during Mr Xi’s term of office, most European leaders saw China primarily as an opportunity – a huge market whose growing status could help compensate for American domination.

Since then, there have been repercussions throughout the continent, especially in small countries such as the Czech Republic and Sweden, where oppression by Chinese diplomats has aroused resentment, and among business leaders concerned about unfair competition from Chinese companies.

Officials, including Mr Juncker when he was President of the European Commission, worked behind the scenes to give courage to the leaders. Similarly, Australian diplomats who came to Europe and Chinese critics from small countries associated with their counterparts in other countries in a little-known attempt that supported a similar one in Washington.

This increases the pressure on the major European powers, including Germany, to defend the continent’s interests, even at the risk of being hit by Beijing.

There are concerns about what Mr Xi started in 2018, at a time when tensions between the EU and the trump card administration are increasing, which some believe could encourage Europe and China to cooperate more closely.

In July of this year, Mr Juncker and other EU delegations met Mr Xi in Beijing, a few days after a broken NATO summit between President Trump and European leaders, when the US president hinted that he wanted to keep Washington out of the alliance. EU officials are shocked by the statement in an interview that the EU is one of America’s greatest enemies.

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At the NATO Summit of 2018, President Trump proposed to remove Washington from the alliance. A few days later, EU representatives met with Mr Xi.

Photo:

Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Mr Xi, for his part, welcomed the representatives of the EU with a State dinner. According to the three attendees, he gave vague assurances about the opportunities for European industry and cooperation on climate change.

While the waiters were cleaning the plates, people remembered. China’s state model will flourish in an era of globalization and free trade, Xi said. Europe is discouraged by its slow decision-making and income inequality feeds populism, he said, referring to the Brexit referendum, a painful point for his guests.

Mr Yunker fought back, according to two officers present: What you call slowness, we call democracy.

Mr Juncker is convinced that China is trying to use Europe in its battles with the United States. He told his advisers that the EU could do the same, i.e. use its talks with Beijing to influence Washington. Two weeks later he met President Trump and signed an unexpected trade agreement between the EU and the United States. Mr Juncker had meanwhile resigned and could no longer be reached for comment.

Around the same time, a group of German industry representatives and politicians met in Zitten Castle north of Berlin for a two-day discussion on China’s ambitions to compete with Germany in areas such as robotics, autonomous driving and clean energy vehicles. Chinese companies have acquired a number of strategic German assets, adding to the urgency.

Business leaders have agreed to press for a stricter policy towards China. They have produced a policy document, distributed to senior German and European officials, warning that liberal market economies are at risk of losing to China, a country they describe as a systemic competitor.

Australian officials, wary of the rise of China, took note of this language and repeated it in meetings with the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Australia has just banned Huawei from installing 5G devices domestically, after which China has punished Australian exports of barley and beef. According to the Australians, Berlin underestimates the problems of economic dependence on China.

But Merkel wanted to broaden her engagement with China and, according to two EU officials, hold a private summit in September 2020, with Xi coming to Germany for the very first meeting with all EU national leaders. Earlier, she had hoped that Beijing would give European companies better access to the Chinese market, so that they could sign an investment pact at the meeting.

A German government spokesman said he did not comment on confidential conversations and internal discussions.

Elsewhere in Europe, however, complaints about China are spreading.

Officials in the Czech Republic were stunned when their cyber security agency discovered that someone acting on behalf of China had hacked e-mails from the State Department and was studying Czech views on issues sensitive to Beijing, such as Tibet, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Although Huawei was not involved and the Chinese government denied any involvement, the agency issued a decree at the end of 2018 stipulating that government data could no longer be transferred using the company’s hardware or software. The authorities fear that Chinese law could force Huawei to cooperate with Chinese intelligence services. Huawei denied that he would hand over the data to Beijing.

Ambassador of China,

Zhang Jianming,

The former interpreter of Mr Xi from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has issued a warning, according to persons familiar with the case: If the Czech Republic had not withdrawn to Huawei, Chinese tourists would not have come and there would have been even more economic consequences.

Prague, flooded with tourists, was eager to reduce the hustle and bustle. Instead of withdrawing, Czech White House officials worked with the National Security Council to bring EU officials to Prague for a cybersecurity summit. Chinese representatives were not invited.

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The Chinese ambassador in Prague, Zhang Jianmin (right), spoke to the then Czech Senator Jaroslav Kubera about the country’s position in the field of Huawei technology.

Photo:

With Simanek/CTK/ZUMA PRESS

Some French, German and Dutch officials feared that the summit would unnecessarily offend China, but they came anyway, according to several participants. Australians at the event warned: Today Beijing is punishing us, but tomorrow it will do the same to you. The Germans have taken notes.

At the beginning of last year, China was mentioned in the EU’s policy document not only as a partner and competitor, but also as a systemic competitor. The language has struck a chord with Chinese diplomats in the EU, according to someone who knows their reaction.

Chinese diplomats consulted a competing dictionary to better understand all its connotations and then asked for explanations in a formal request: With rival, did the EU mean the enemy?

Share your ideas

How do you see the development of China’s relations with other countries this year? Take part in the discussion below.

Mr Xi had the same question when he arrived in Paris in March 2019 to meet Mr Macron. The French president has had disputes with China, including in Africa, where Paris competes with Beijing for influence. Mr Macron had asked Mr Juncker and Mrs Merkel to attend the meeting.

Mr Xi was visibly upset when the subject of a systemic rival was raised, said an official gift. To lighten the mood, the official, Mr Juncker, said that his homeland, Luxembourg, had never declared war on China because it was too small to accommodate all the prisoners it would need.

After weeks of discussions with EU officials, Mr Xi’s government has offered to work towards improving EU access to Chinese markets. In principle, European companies will be able to trade and invest in China in the same way as Chinese companies in Europe.

But after a few months, negotiations to keep that promise came to a standstill. Instead of facilitating trade, Beijing has threatened to impose further restrictions in order to punish European actions which, in his view, offend the Chinese people.

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Huawei factory in Guangdong Province, China. UK and France split between Huawei’s ability to compete in Europe

Photo:

Alex Plewski/ EPA/Shutterstock

In Sweden, the Chinese ambassador warned of the economic consequences after a government minister awarded a literary prize to a captured Sino-Swedish dissident. For our enemies we have shotguns, he told a Swedish journalist.

In the Czech Republic, Beijing cancelled the trip to China by a Prague city orchestra, citing a dispute with the city’s mayor over Taiwan’s status. The reprimand was also a reaction to the Czech warning against Huawei, the ambassador later told the Czech diplomats.

The Chinese ambassador then gave a written warning to a 72-year-old Czech senator who was planning to visit Taiwan: If relations do not improve, one of the few Czech companies exporting to China, the piano manufacturer Petrof s.r.o., would also be affected.

A few days later, the senator died of a heart attack. The sale of 11 pianos to a Chinese buyer failed.

Unpaid pianos were bought by a Czech billionaire and 90 Czech politicians, businessmen and academics flew to Taiwan. When the Chinese ambassador called to complain, a Czech official put his phone on the table and ignored it during the conversation, the official remembered.

In response to the questions raised, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed serious concern and great dissatisfaction at the recent behaviour of Czech officials and groups which have caused unrest affecting China’s fundamental interests.

In late spring, other governments joined the choir. While protests in Hong Kong, a former British colony, continued, Britain began to put pressure on its former EU partners to take a firmer stance by circulating a 12-point memorandum on China’s plans. Mr Xi has violated the 1984 agreement between China and China, which Hong Kong returned to China with certain freedoms enshrined therein, according to British officials.

At the end of July the EU adopted sanctions, including a ban on extradition to and from Hong Kong. Britain banned its telecommunications equipment from purchasing Huawei devices after it had previously stated that it could manage all security risks.

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In September, Mr Xi, Ms Merkel and senior EU officials held a videoconference.

Photo:

Li Xiang/Xinhua/Zuma Press

Mrs. Merkel seemed rather isolated. The EU-China conference in Leipzig scheduled for September has been downgraded to a video conference between Mr Xi, Ms Merkel and two senior EU officials because of the coronavirus.

The main theme should be trade, but an hour later,

Charles Michelle,

one of the two senior EU officials, has put China under pressure on human rights. Mr Xi also gave statistics, reporting a 10 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Germany. He also mentioned the Black Lives Matter movement spreading from America and reported migrants drowning in the sea, said two officials in the interview.

We are not giving a lecture, said the Chinese president, according to the participants and the Chinese State Information Service. No one has a perfect record.

Mr Michel replied that the EU has at least one policy dealing with human rights issues. We’re far from perfect, said the two officials on the phone, but we’re willing to answer questions of clarification.

By the end of the talks, neither side had made any progress on the Agreement.

A few weeks later, the high-ranking European diplomat had a meeting with the US Secretary of State.

Mike Pompeo.

to agree on a common goal: The United States and Europe should coordinate with China. It is expected that this cooperation will be intensified after the election of the President.

Joe Biden

The diplomat recently declared that he was entering the service.

-Rachel Pannett contributed to this article.

Email Drew Hinshaw at [email protected], Sha Hua at [email protected] and Lawrence Norman at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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