June 16, 2021

Europeans reluctant to face direct opposition to Beijing

We hoped for a dialogue. It was only a succession of Chinese monologues. Held simultaneously in Chongqing and Rome on Tuesday, June 8, the fifth “China-Europe Human Rights Seminar” flopped. No European official attended. Scheduled to be held this year in Italy, this meeting, for which the Chinese are devoting considerable resources, was held in duplex with Rome. Yet no member of the Draghi government has made a single appearance. Even the Italian consul in Chongqing did not deign to make a jump there.

We were just treated to a few local elected officials from the Peninsula, who came to say that China was a great country and that it would be even more so if it allowed the Chinese to do their shopping again in Rome and Milan. It is true that, for their part, the Chinese had not made the slightest effort. The theme chosen for the meeting proves it: the Covid-19 and the guarantee of the right to life and to health. One after another, the Chinese explained that, thanks to Xi Jinping, China had saved countless lives during the epidemic. And since life is the first of human rights, China therefore respects them. CQFD. We understand that neither Xinjiang nor Hong Kong were on the agenda.

“We must speak with China”

Since March 22 and the announcement by Beijing of sanctions against European political leaders, the Union has not known what attitude to adopt vis-à-vis China. “The political conditions for a dialogue of this type are not met”, explain the Europeans to justify their absence at the seminar. But, they add immediately, “We must speak with China”. Just before Joe Biden’s visit to the G7, Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, once again defended the investment agreement reached at the end of December 2020, even if it seems stillborn.

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The European Union does not intend to allow itself to be drawn into a frontal opposition by Washington with Beijing. Moreover, contacts are far from being broken between the member states and China. The foreign ministers of Hungary, Poland and Ireland recently visited China. Italian and Spanish officials could follow.

Above all, the idea of ​​a farewell visit from Angela Merkel – possibly accompanied by Emmanuel Macron – this summer is not completely abandoned. “Do not underestimate the charm of China”, warns a Western diplomat. “Don’t forget that 3 million cars are sold per year in Germany but that Volkswagen alone sells 3.5 million cars in China”, decrypts another. Even unloved, China is inescapable.

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