European variables of Sino-US competition

Beginning in June, the bilateral interaction between China, the United States and Europe began to become active, which in fact opened the curtain of the trilateral game in the post-epidemic era. In this process, European trends are particularly worthy of attention.

From June 16 to 17, Yang Jiechi, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission, held a dialogue with Secretary of State Pompeo in Hawaii at the appointment. The last official direct contact between China and the United States was when the two countries signed the first phase of the economic and trade agreement in mid-January this year. During this period, China-US relations gave the outside world a downward spiral.

On June 3 and 5, Chinese President Xi Jinping had phone conversations with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron respectively. On June 9, the tenth round of China-EU high-level strategic dialogue was held in the form of video conference. On June 22, the 22nd China-EU Leaders’ Meeting was also held by way of video conference. However, the China-Europe summit originally scheduled to be held in Leipzig, Germany in September this year has chosen another time due to the new crown epidemic.

On June 15th and 18th, the European Union’s 27 foreign ministers and defense ministers held video conferences with US Secretary of State Pompeo and Defense Secretary Esper respectively. After the two high-level meetings, no joint press communiqué or joint statement was issued. Judging from the media reports, the differences at the meeting are no less than consensus. However, it is also the G7 summit (perhaps an enlarged version) originally scheduled to be held in the United States in September this year. So far, there has been no news of postponement, although the US epidemic has not yet seen any signs of relief.

Beginning on July 1, Germany will assume the six-month EU presidency. The importance of Germany in the European Union needless to say. Chancellor Merkel, who is no longer seeking re-election, has no doubt about its willingness to position the EU’s international role in an era of strategic uncertainty. The biggest uncertainty is the prospect of Sino-US strategic competition.

New trend
Before the outbreak of the new crown epidemic in the United States in March this year, Sino-US relations still made people feel a little optimistic due to the first phase of the economic and trade agreement. Although in February when China was still the epicenter of the epidemic, the Trump administration did not let go of any chance of getting rid of it. When the epidemic in the United States took a sharp turn, it was also the beginning of a downward spiral in Sino-US relations. The two countries not only choke each other in the air on the diplomatic level, but also take “unfriendly” actions against each other. The US in particular is full of hostility in its diplomatic words and deeds towards China. Trump not only claimed to be “completely decoupled” from China, but also published a strategic report that looked like a blueprint for decoupling.

The Hawaii contacts of senior Chinese and American officials in mid-June more or less surprised the outside world. Judging from the information released by the Chinese side, the meeting was a “contract” participation by the Chinese side. The two sides determined that the meeting was “constructive” and agreed to continue contact and communication. The full text of the Chinese news is about 150 words, and the official tone of the United States is also very tight. It can basically be summed up as “expressed its position and willing to continue the dialogue.” According to US media reports, the US arranged a dinner on the 16th and the talks on the 17th lasted for about 7 hours. From the perspective of diplomatic common sense, the two sides should have talked a lot, but the details are unknown to the outside world.

Just before and after the time of the China-U.S. meeting in Hawaii, the United States and the European Union held a “foreign minister + defense minister” meeting. On June 15th, Borelli, the EU’s high representative for foreign and security policy, and the EU’s 27 foreign ministers, held a video conference with Pompeo. A few hours after the meeting, the White House officially announced its decision to withdraw more than 9,000 American soldiers from Germany. However, this heavy news did not affect the scheduled June 18 video conference between the EU and the US Defense Secretary. However, judging from the situation reported by the media, the defense ministers’ meeting seems to be an “awkward chat” for the EU.

The United States does not seem to care much about the differences between the United States and Europe, even on the topic of China. In a statement issued after the European and American foreign ministers’ meeting, Bores stated that on the China issue, he hoped that the EU and the United States could establish a “bilateral dialogue” to deal with China’s challenges. “In our relations with China, there are some problems that we must face together. Our close cooperation is very important to jointly solve these problems.” German Foreign Minister Maas also told the media after the meeting, “Only when Europe and the United States share the same direction, we can China will put forward the requirements of the United States.” However, at the US-EU foreign ministers’ meeting, Pompeo’s proposal to the EU was unknown (later changed to “agree” at an academic conference, but how it works was not Below).

The dialogue between the U.S. and Europe is almost not on the same channel, and the interactive imagination between China and Europe seems to be bigger.
In terms of diplomacy with Europe, the top officials of the Trump administration have clearly put “Trump requirements” on top. The decision to withdraw troops from Germany has a strong personal element of Trump. It seems to be worried that the EU thinks that the United States is just talking. Esper also flew to Brussels in person a week after the US-Europe defense ministers meeting (June 26) to meet NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg and discuss how to withdraw troops. problem. Two days ago (June 24), the Office of the United States Trade Representative issued a statement stating that the United States is considering imposing new tariffs on approximately $3.1 billion worth of imports from France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The dialogue between the U.S. and Europe is almost not on the same channel, and the interactive imagination between China and Europe seems to be bigger. On June 3 and 5, the calls between Xi Jinping and Merkel and Macron were the third and fourth calls this year between China and German and French leaders. As of June, the Chinese and American leaders had made two calls. The frequency of calls between leaders reflects the temperature of bilateral relations. On June 9th and 22nd, China and the EU held the 10th round of China-EU High-level Strategic Dialogue and the 22nd China-EU Leaders’ Meeting.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the EU, and both parties are willing to use this as an opportunity to build a “new relationship.” In a video meeting with European Council President Michel and European Commission President Von der Lein, President Xi Jinping said that China is willing to work with the European side to promote a more stable and mature China-EU relationship in the “post-epidemic era” and to a higher level. Michel and von der Lein said that the world is currently facing great uncertainty. Only international cooperation can cope with global challenges, and only dialogue and consultation can resolve conflicts and eliminate regional instability. “The European side is willing to carry out a strategic dialogue with China in a frank manner and expand consensus.”

Changes in Europe
From the bilateral interaction between China, the United States and Europe in June, it can be seen that the strategic competition between China and the United States is the “big background”, and the direction of the three sets of bilateral relations needs to be viewed in this context. The strategic competition between China and the United States will continue, but technical suspension for the sake of “stop loss” is not ruled out; the contradictions and differences between the United States and Europe have not been reduced, but the “cooperation” in diplomacy with China is already on the table; China and Europe All of China’s diplomacy considers American factors, but it also has its bilateral logic. For China’s diplomacy, it is particularly important to respond to the strategic competition between China and the United States and to keep track of the EU’s trends.

Before the outbreak of the new crown epidemic, the relationship between the EU and China and the United States was undergoing reconstruction. The epidemic became an accelerator for these reconstructions. Recognizing this, we must first look at the self-perception of the coronavirus on the EU and the changes in the perception of China and the United States. The European Parliament elections at the end of May last year made the outside world worry about whether the EU would fall apart due to the impact of populism. The results of the election showed that the populist party only shook the EU for a while, and did not shake the foundation of this political edifice. In other words, Europeans have a lot of dissatisfaction with the EU, but generally recognize the value of its existence. After the new crown crisis, dissatisfaction still exists, but the recognition of EU values ​​is clearer.

On topics related to the new crown epidemic, the European Commission on External Relations published a poll conducted in 9 EU countries in June this year. Regarding the question of “Which country or international organization is the biggest ally in the new crown crisis”, the proportion who chose “No” (27%) was the highest, followed by WHO (15%), and the EU (8%). Ranked third, accounting for the same proportion as those who chose China (7%). On the question of “how the new crown crisis will change the attitude towards the EU”, 72% of those who choose “strengthen the cooperation within the EU” and only 18% choose “the EU cooperation goes too far”. This shows that while the new crown crisis has made Europeans feel helpless, it has also strengthened their demand for EU mechanisms.

How does the new crown crisis affect Europeans’ perception of China and the United States? According to this survey, 58% of the people who chose to have “deteriorated” impression of the United States, and only 6% who chose to “improve”. 46% of them have “deteriorated” impression of China, and 13% of them choose “improve”. From this poll, it can be seen that the Europeans’ poor attitude towards the United States is basically a “consensus”, but the image of China in their hearts has not yet been substantially improved. In other words, the new crown crisis makes Europeans feel that the United States is no longer reliable, but there are still great doubts about whether China is worth relying on.

How the EU’s attitude toward China changes, Germany’s attitude is critical. The results of a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in April this year are basically the same as the above survey, but there are also subtle differences. “Who is the most trustworthy during the COVID-19 pandemic?” The proportion of Germans who choose their own government (31%) is the highest, which is close to the proportion of “international institutions like WHO” (30%), and only 8% choose the EU. Obviously, the Germans are not satisfied with the EU mechanism, but their trust in their own government cannot be regarded as “national priority” because they still believe in global governance. This point may be a potential and key diplomatic connection point with China.

Germans’ attitude towards China and the United States is quite intriguing. According to a survey conducted by the European Commission on Foreign Relations, the percentage of Germans with a bad impression of Americans is 65%, which is higher than the EU average of 58%; the percentage of Americans with a better attitude is 4%, which is lower than the EU average. 6%. The rate of bad attitude towards Chinese is 48%, which is slightly higher than the EU average rate of 46%, but the better rate (7%) is also significantly lower than the EU average rate (13%). However, in the Pew survey on the question of “Which is more important to Germany” between China and the United States, 36% chose to establish a closer relationship with China, compared to only 24% last year. 37% chose to establish a closer relationship with the United States, compared with 50% last year.

The new crown crisis makes Europeans feel that the United States is no longer reliable, but there are still great doubts about whether China is worth relying on.
There will not be a direct linear relationship between public opinion and policy, but the relationship between the two under the Western democratic system will not be completely separated. If public opinion is used as the dimension of prediction, then in the post-epidemic era,

It is almost impossible to disintegrate, and its functions in some areas will be strengthened. The positive image of the United States in Europe is collapsing, and China is still far from building a positive image. However, it can be seen from the Germans’ “who should establish a closer relationship with” that they have chosen to be “pragmatic.” This choice is impossible without affecting the EU.

Dual-track strategy
Germany, which holds the rotating presidency of the European Union in the second half of this year, can be said to be a heavy responsibility. The more urgent task is to lead the European Union to recover the economy hit by the new crown epidemic. What better reflects the importance of the task is how to position the European role in the strategic competition between China and the United States, that is, the issue of “how the EU chooses between China and the United States” that is currently hotly discussed in international public opinion. Judging from the recent bilateral interactions between China, the United States and Europe, and the impact of the new crown epidemic on Europe, the EU is likely to adopt a “dual track strategy”: on the one hand, it pursues strategic autonomy by strengthening EU functions; on the other hand, in the strategic competition between China and the United States. Selective edge selection”.

On the day before the European and American foreign ministers’ meeting on June 15, Borelli published an article on the official website of the European Union, expounding his views on Sino-US strategic competition. He wrote that US-China relations are set on a global competition track, which will not change no matter who enters the White House next January. “When the tension between the United States and China becomes the main axis of global politics, the pressure to choose sides is increasing.” Borelli made it clear that the EU will not wait for the storm to pass, but will take a strategic response. He also emphasized that the EU’s use of the strategic direction compass will be based on the needs of the EU, rather than naive expectations or external pressure.

When predicting the direction of the EU’s China strategy, public opinion often focuses on the expression of “systematic competitors” in the EU’s China strategy document last April. In fact, the EU’s positioning of China, before this statement, there are two “negotiation partners” and “economic competitors.” As Borelli said in the above article, “Our relationship with China will inevitably be complex and multidimensional.” Judging from the current situation, if the main tone of the US strategy toward China is “competition,” then the main intention of the EU is to “reshape.”

In the process of reshaping, there will not only be competition, but also side selection on specific issues. Although Europe and the United States are also in constant economic and trade frictions, the EU’s position on China in terms of market access, investment review, subsidy policies, and high-tech competition is actually converging with the United States. This trend will only become more pronounced in the post-epidemic era. While admiring China’s adherence to multilateralism, Merkel also said that “Europe is not neutral, but a part of Western politics. The EU will be a reliable partner for the Western community of interests”. Is this a kind of “side selection”?