As if this wasn’t already difficult enough, there is also a certain gap between France and Germany. In Beijing, Mrs. Merkel was more outspoken on human rights than French visitors usually are. That gap is indeed customary, and it is also true that China takes in stride these declarations, although it was less tolerant of a later reception of Hong Kong’s Joshua Wong in Berlin. Mrs. Merkel was far less articulate when it came to addressing the European economic agenda with China, perhaps deferring the issues to the two EU-China summits Germany will be presiding over in 2020. In Brussels, there is concern that Germany might hijack the negotiations according to its own concerns: the German automotive industry, for example, is now literally a hostage of the Chinese market. Germany has fewer direct interest in the service and financial sector than some other European countries. Mrs. Merkel’s recent weakness on 5G shows that she might be tempted to aim for low threshold agreements.
If dispersed, Europe has much less weight in dealing with China – as it does with Russia and the United States, for that matter. Here again, Emmanuel Macron wants to push for a European way. Bringing along on his visit a European commissioner as well as a German minister is proof enough: nobody before him has given as much credit to Europe. It is also a risk he takes. At home, he may be judged naive or, worse, a federalist. In Germany, the current fog regarding foreign policy may need justifications over the so-called pragmatic economic interests, however a short view these may be. In China, it would be surprising that his hosts give him credit for the advocacy of a unified and realist European policy. They do very well with a Europe that is either divided or lacking means to defend its stands.
Nothing is sure in advance, either on this visit, or on the future of Europe’s China policy. The Chinese leadership needs to ponder that, by stalling negotiations with Europe in the past, they have lost much credit with their counterparts or with the European public opinion. The polls show that the same European public opinion actually credits Mr. Macron much more than many jaded political commentators do. He is there to stay, and he will therefore be an important interlocutor for China – if the country cares at all about relations with Europe.
Copyright : LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL / AFP