China Seeks To Reverse Passive Situation In Geopolitical Game – Analysis
By He Jun
China’s top diplomat Wang Yi has started a week-long trip to Europe starting February 14, with France, Italy, Hungary, and Russia being on his itinerary. In addition, he was also in Germany for the 59th Munich Security Conference. Noteworthily, as of February 18, other than meeting with diplomatic officials from various countries, French President Emanuel Macron, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have successively met him. Wang also gave a special speech at the Munich Security Conference (MSC), expounding China’s foreign policy and views on current international issues.
Considering Wang’s trip to Europe and the reactions it has produced so far, this appears to be a rather dynamic diplomatic and influential geopolitical display made by China on the international political stage in recent days. In a sense, this helps to reverse China’s passive situation in the international geopolitical scene in the past year.
In this regard, there are several aspects worth noting:
First, it positively expounds China’s two major principles on international issues, i.e., sovereignty and peace.
In his speech at the MSC, Wan emphasized that the principle of sovereignty is the cornerstone of the contemporary international order, and all countries should abide by the principle in both words and deeds rather than apply it selectively or with double standards. He said China will resolutely curb “separatist interference” and safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity. He also said that no matter how complicated the issue is, dialogue and consultation should not be abandoned, disputes should be resolved politically; and that peace must be given a chance despite the difficult situation.
Second, China emphasized its attitude of “persuading peace and promoting talks” on the crisis in Ukraine. China’s position towards the war in Ukraine and how its cooperation with Russia have been important issues in the West’s criticism of China in the past year. Wang remarked that China does not stand idly in, nor does it add fuel to the flames, and it opposes any act of taking advantage in the crisis. He stated that China stands firmly on the side of peace and dialogue. Wang also revealed that from the second day of the conflict, China’s top leaders had already proposed to seek a political settlement of the dispute through dialogue.
In contrast, at the MSC, Western countries focused more on military aid for the Ukraine crisis, for this reason, an article in the political news site Politico carries the title “In Munich, Everyone’s Talking about Weapons”. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged to “double down” aid for Ukraine, while German Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged allies to send tanks. “President Putin’s imperialist plans are the key to this war. What we are doing is making it clear that we will never accept an imperialist war or President Putin’s trampling on international law,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
It is worth noting that on February 18, Wang met with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba while attending the MSC. Wang expressed that China and Ukraine are strategic partners, and again emphasized that China has always stood on the side of peace and dialogue. He said China does not want to see the Ukrainian crisis protracted and expanded, and is willing to work with the international community to avoid further deterioration of the situation. Kuleba responded that over the past year, Ukraine and China have maintained communication and that Ukraine attaches great importance to China’s international status and important influence, as well as its position on a political solution to the crisis. He said Ukraine expects China to continue to play a constructive role.
Third, under the encroachment of the United States, China strives to seek cooperation with Europe.
At the MSC too, Wang said, “we hope European friends will give sober thought to these questions: what kind of efforts are needed to stop the war? What kind of architecture is needed for peace and stability to endure in Europe? What kind of role does Europe need to play to realize its strategic autonomy?” Here, he emphasized the importance of cooperation between China and the EU, and that building a safer world will need China and the EU to make the “right choice”. “If we choose dialogue and cooperation, there will be no confrontation between camps; if we choose peace and stability, there will be no new Cold War; if we choose openness and mutual winning results, there will be hope for global development and prosperity”, he said.
Crucially, coincident with Wang’s visit to Europe, there is the publication of a long article by the well-known American investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that alleged that the United States was the “real culprit” behind the explosion of the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines. Although the Western media remained collectively silent on this matter, it still cast a shadow in Europe. Naturally, Wang Yi’s appeal to Europe at this time was regarded by some Western media as an act of “dividing” relations between Europe and the United States. An analysis article in Politico stated that a year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, China is trying to create a new wedge between Europe and the United States.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg “countered back” Wang Yi’s speech. As the head of NATO, Stoltenberg has demonstrated his consistent tough view on China. “What is happening in Europe today”, he said, “could happen in Asia tomorrow”. He called on Western allies to act in unison in both military and economic aspects and abandon their dependence on China for raw materials, as well as warned against exporting key technologies to the country. While focusing on external adversaries, Stoltenberg also implored NATO allies to avoid internal squabbles: “We must not create new barriers between free and open economies,” he said. “The most important lesson from the war in Ukraine,” he added, “is that North America and Europe must stand together”. However, not all European countries share this view. An article at Politico noted that “while countries like the U.S. have pushed allies to keep a closer eye on Beijing and distance themselves from China’s economy, others have expressed caution about turning China into such an unequivocal enemy”.
Fourth, senior officials from China and the United States finally had exchanges in Munich.
According to media reports, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Wang Yi, on the sidelines of the MSC. It was the first face-to-face exchange between senior Chinese and U.S. government officials since the U.S. shot down a Chinese “stray balloon” earlier this month. According to the U.S. State Department’s interpretation of the meeting, Blinken “directly addressed the unacceptable violation of U.S. sovereignty and international law by Chinese balloons” and “emphasized that such irresponsible behavior must never happen again”. After the meeting, it was revealed that Wang did not offer an “apology” for the incident. According to the NBC report, Blinken stated that “we are very concerned that China’s considering providing lethal support to Russia in its aggression against Ukraine”, he added, “and I made clear that that would have serious consequences in our relationship”. However, judging from the principles of sovereignty and peace that Wang previously emphasized, it is clear that Blinken’s warning did not hit the target.
From the media reports, the meeting between Wang and Blinken was hardly pleasant, and there was no real progress to be made. However, the meeting between officials of the two countries is still of positive value. As long as the two countries are in communication, they can avoid greater misjudgment. Before the MSC, U.S. President Joe Biden revealed his desire to speak with Chinese leaders. U.S. and Chinese officials have spent the past few days trying to broker a meeting between Blinken and Wang, according to people familiar with the matter. Progress in the talks was allegedly slowed by the Chinese government’s demands that the U.S. formally set conditions for the meeting. An American diplomat pointed out that this is a two-way discussion to achieve a meeting, and the Biden administration will not lower itself to obtain a meeting. Chinese media described the meeting as an “informal contact” “at the request of the U.S. side”. Considering the current U.S.-China relations, there should not be high expectations for the short-term improvement of the bilateral relationship between the two countries, but as long as communication is maintained, it is a signal of safety.
Wang’s destiny for his trip to Europe will be Hungary and Russia. The former is an “outlier” among EU countries, and often votes against the EU’s position, while Russia is one of the highlights of Wang’s trip. Expectedly, officials of the two countries will have further exchanges on the current international situation, and may also exchange views on China’s upcoming peaceful speech on the Ukraine crisis. Russia’s views and feedback on this may also affect China’s upcoming statement. For the world, especially for European countries, Wang’s visit to Russia will be observed with suspicion and great concern.
Final analysis conclusion:
Wang Yi’s trip to Europe is a powerful voice for China’s diplomacy. Based on the principles of sovereignty and peace, China has expressed a clear attitude towards major international issues, hoping to provide a different choice in the current intense geopolitical frictions. Regardless of the outcome, this will help reverse China’s previous passive situation in the international geopolitical game.
He Jun is a researcher at ANBOUND