China: Putin arrives in Beijing ahead of Belt and Road Forum
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Diplomatic tensions took a fresh turn this week after China urged the EU to make an “independent” judgement of Beijing, free of the US. In a phone call with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, China’s President Xi Jinping spoke of the “challenges” his country faces in providing new development projects. According to the state broadcaster CCTV, he said: “At present, China-EU relations are facing new development opportunities, but also different challenges.
“China’s development is an opportunity for the EU.
“We hope the EU can make the right judgement independently and achieve strategic autonomy in the real sense.”
Tensions between China and the US have increased since Joe Biden entered the White House in January.
Things risk becoming worse as China sets its sights on Europe and the rest of the world in its ambitious ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, also known as its ‘new Silk Road’.
The plans look to open up and connect the world via ancient trading routes with ultra-modern technology and infrastructure.
The “Belt” will follow overland routes from China, across Central Asia and the Middle East, up through Europe; while its “Road” will carve out new maritime routes west to Africa, and through to Southern Europe with the hope of establishing new infrastructure through the Balkans and Central Europe.
Beijing has already signed an investment deal with Italy, the first G7 member to do so and a founding state of what is today the EU.
China also owns the port of Piraeus in Greece, and has considerable influence in Trieste, a vital port in Italy that marks the beginning of the journey for millions of Chinese products flooding into Southern and Central Europe.
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The US views China’s interest and pumping of money into Europe with great suspicion.
Things were made worse in the closing days of 2020, when the EU – spearheaded by Mrs Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron – signed a mammoth investment deal with China.
Mr Biden has since battled to preempt China’s growth, coordinating a transatlantic strategy to curb its assertiveness.
Many now fear that Europe could become a pawn in a greater game of who owns the world between the US and China.
Gida Messetti, an Italian sinologist, subscribes to this.
Speaking during DW’s documentary, ‘China’s gateway to Europe – the New Silk Road’ in late 2020, she warned of a third World War on the horizon.
She said: “I hope for some European leadership, because if not, Europe risks becoming the battlefield for China and the USA.
“Europe can be the third key player in the global arena.
“I hope that’s what Europe decides to do.”
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Francesco Parisi, a businessman in Italy, told the documentary that he was worried about any new confrontation like that seen during the Cold War.
He said: “This confrontational situation and the worry of another Cold War is a matter of concern for me personally and for my business in general.
“But for me, also as a citizen of the EU.
“We consider international trade to be a bridge, to be helpful, to keep and maintain peace.”
China’s interests in Europe were made clear in February after it overtook the US to become the EU’s biggest trading partner.
Trade between the two was worth $709bn (€586bn, £511bn) in 2020, compared with $671bn (€569bn, £485bn) worth of imports and exports from the US.
President Xi, speaking to Mrs Merkel, was keen to draw attention to this, as he said: “For five consecutive years China has been the biggest trading partner for Germany.
“We hope Germany will remain open and expand … cooperation between companies of our countries.”
In recent months the US’ ire has focused on human rights abuses in China’s northwestern province of Xinjiang, where over a million Uighur Muslims are thought to be held in what Beijing describes as “re-education camps”.
Last month, following the US’ lead, the EU slapped sanctions on China over the alleged abuse.
Beijing responded, as it has done with the US and UK, with retaliatory measures of its own.
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