After Xi Jinping's Visit Trade Wars on the Horizon: Europe's Stance on China

Amidst escalating tensions over trade imbalances, geopolitical rifts and the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, Xi Jinping's recent European tour caused a lot of controversy but also brought to the surface some of the main disagreements between the EU and Chi

by Sededin Dedovic
After Xi Jinping's Visit Trade Wars on the Horizon: Europe's Stance on China
© Kiran Ridley / Getty Images

Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded his European tour on Friday, which stirred up a lot of controversy. From the perspective of the European Union, it was important to address the flooding of Europe with cheaper Chinese electric cars and differences in views on the war in Ukraine to the powerful guest.

Xi's first visit since 2019 came amidst growing Western suspicions that China is trying to exploit divisions in Europe. Analysts have pointed out that Xi's choice of destinations - France, Serbia, and Hungary - was by no means a coincidence, reports DeutscheWelle.

Bertram Lang, a researcher at Goethe University in Frankfurt specializing in Chinese foreign policy, says that all three countries visited by Xi have "special bilateral relations" with Beijing. Lang adds that the Chinese leadership has gradually divided Europe into two groups, "friendly and unfriendly towards China." The tour aimed to highlight relations with the former.

Is the EU Closing Ranks?

Xi began his tour in France, where his two-day state visit and talks with French President Emmanuel Macron focused on the war in Ukraine and the trade imbalance with the EU. The Union has a massive deficit of three hundred billion euros annually in trade with China.

Macron sought to demonstrate European unity by involving European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who also attended the meeting. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who recently visited Beijing, was also invited to Paris - but did not come.

Scholz and Macron, however, met earlier in the month to discuss policy towards China. In Paris, von der Leyen's public comments directly addressed what she called "market deviation practices." Europeans believe that China, through strong subsidies for the production of electric cars and steel, is supplying Europe with cheaper vehicles and thus grabbing larger pieces of the market.

: President of France Emmanuel Macron (R) welcomes President of the Peoples Republic of China Xi Jinping to the Élysée Palace © Kiran Ridley / Getty Images

The European Commission will scrutinize this.

A report is expected in July, after which punitive tariffs could be imposed on Chinese e-cars. In the worst case scenario, this could lead to a trade war between two major economic players, the EU and China. During trilateral talks in Paris, von der Leyen told Xi Jinping that Europe "will not hesitate to make tough decisions necessary to protect its economy and security." In response to these statements, Xi said that China does not overproduce goods to flood markets, Xinhua reported.

EU members are closing ranks, and the European Commission is "quite determined" to trade with China on equal terms, says Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy, a former political adviser in the European Parliament and now a professor at National Taiwan University.

According to Chinese state media, Xi's visit to France was a success. Global Times writes about 18 "cooperation agreements" - on aviation, agriculture, people exchange, green development, and cooperation with small and medium-sized enterprises - as a "positive signal for European entrepreneurs" and a "stabilizer of Sino-European trade relations." According to Chinese media interpretations not shared in Europe, this is a step back from the EU's decision to pursue a policy of "decoupling" and "de-risking" with China.

In translation, this means reducing dependence on China in every sense.

Xi Refuses Talks on Ukraine

As for Ukraine, Beijing has not yet succeeded in convincing European leaders of its "neutrality." China has also rejected calls from European and American leaders to use its influence on Moscow to play a constructive role in ending the conflict.

The United States claims that China supplies Russia with drone engines and cruise missile technology. China is certainly one of the key players preventing the Russian economy from collapsing under Western sanctions - the Chinese export everything to Russia.

Xi sharply responded to these accusations, claiming that the crisis in Ukraine is "being used to shift responsibility onto a third country, tarnish its image, and incite a new Cold War." He added that China "is not a participant" in the crisis.

Jean-Philippe Beja, an expert on China and a senior researcher at Sciences Po University in Paris, told DW that during talks, Xi was informed that Russia's war against Ukraine is a "matter of life and death for Europe." Ahead of Xi's visit, Chinese state media praised Macron for advocating "strategic autonomy" for Europe, meaning strengthening the continent's military capabilities.

China interprets this as a rejection of NATO under US leadership. After visiting China in April 2023, Macron was criticized for warning that Europe should not be drawn into the conflict between the US and China over Taiwan. He said that being an ally of the US does not mean being a "vassal" of Washington.

Xi Jinping Europe Ukraine