French and German leaders are said to have planned trips to Beijing

BEIJING: Chinese envoys have started a diplomatic wave to prepare the ground for possible visits by French and German leaders to Beijing later this year.

Former Chinese ambassador to Germany Xi Mingde was in Berlin last week to finalize plans for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s first state visit to Beijing in November, during which he would meet President Xi Jinping, according to a source familiar with the matter. according.

French and Chinese diplomats have held several online and in-person meetings amid rumors that French President Emmanuel Macron will travel separately to meet Xi in November.

After speaking last week with Macron’s diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met his French counterpart Catherine Colonna at the United Nations in New York on Monday.

In July, the South China Morning Post reported that Macron, Scholz, and the Italian and Spanish presidents had also been invited by China.

The trips will take place a week apart, according to Rhodium Group editor Noah Barkin, who first announced it on his Twitter page.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Wednesday, “At the moment, I don’t have any information to share on this.” Wang had previously called the invitation “fake news”.

Berlin and Paris declined to confirm visits, saying international trips are usually announced a week in advance.

If the visits continue, it will be the first visit by Western European leaders to China in three years due to Covid demands. Macron and Scholz are likely to be among the first world leaders to visit after Xi is expected to be elected to a third five-year term as party leader at the Communist Party Congress in October.

However, China’s relations with Europe have deteriorated significantly over the past three years.

including China’s support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, European sanctions against Chinese officials over the human rights situation in Xinjiang, an informal Chinese trade embargo on goods bound for Lithuania and growing concerns over cross-Strait relations with Taiwan. . Analysts say European leaders will come under pressure to avoid reverting to pre-pandemic behavior, when state visits to China were often used as junk to strike trade deals.

“The symbols used in communication are important. President Macron announced during his first visit to the Indo-Pacific region that he would visit China every year, according to Antoine Bondaz, researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research , for many Surprised People. A French think tank. At the start of his second term, Bondaz said: “It will be important to send a more balanced message, in particular by highlighting our Indo-Pacific strategy.”

Scholz is under even greater pressure now that the whole German strategy toward China is under debate.

Their alliance is embroiled in a messy dispute over COSCO’s proposal to acquire a 35% stake in the container port of Hamburg, the third largest in Europe. Robert Habeck, economy minister and co-leader of the Greens, a junior coalition partner, said he was leaning towards opposing the purchase.

According to Social Democratic Party member of Scholz and mayor of Hamburg, Peter Tschancher, the dispute will hurt the port because COSCO has already invested in competing operators in the port cities of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and Antwerp, in Belgium. “Shipping companies should also be able to participate in the Hamburg terminals, if it makes commercial sense,” he said. “To face international competition, this must be possible.”

The dispute has jeopardized Germany’s reputation as an open economy, according to Port of Hamburg Marketing CEO Axel Matern.

“Everyone is invited to invest in our free market social economy. Such a strategy should be politically decided and implemented at European level, he said, if there are political concerns that some players will only be European. The consortium should be allowed to invest in a limited amount. The controversy arises when the German Foreign Office, also led by Annalena Barbock of the Green Party, draws up a New China strategy that is likely to deviate from previous strategies.

According to several reports, export credits and government investment guarantees cannot be granted to companies doing business in China. According to the United Nations, Volkswagen was denied such guarantees earlier this year for a project in Xinjiang where the Chinese government is suspected of committing crimes against humanity. China denies the allegations.

According to Pascal Ebb, China researcher at the Peace Research Institute in Frankfurt, German foreign policy is being “secured”. According to Ebb, “the port issue is the most visible part of the securing process, where issues that were not previously considered fundamental security issues are moved to that scope.”

“Because you have these political differences and because there is, in my opinion, an exaggerated fear that Chinese investments in infrastructure will harm national security, you are cutting back on certain relations, especially in the economic sphere, which were once seen as separate from politics – what the Chinese like to call “win-win cooperation”.

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James R. Rhodes