Europe and China, What now?

Chinese President Xi Jinping just visited Europe for the first time in five years. His visit to France, Hungary, and Serbia this week is seen as a defining moment for relations between China and the EU, following German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to China last month.

“We want to obtain reciprocity of exchanges and have the elements of our economic security taken into account,” Macron said in an interview with French newspaper La Tribune on Sunday.

“In Europe, we are not unanimous on the subject because certain players still see China as essentially a market of opportunities,” Macron said, without naming any countries.

President Macron of France and President Xi Jinping of China 2024

Macron wrote this on his Twitter: “It is also through sharing our personal stories that our relationships take shape. Very happy to welcome you at the Col du Tourmalet in these Hautes-Hautes-Pyrénées which are so dear to me, President Xi Jinping, as you welcomed me in Canton”

Twitter, President Macron of France

Trade relations between China and the EU have increased by 900 percent since 2001, when China was invited to join the World Trade Organization, and will reach a volume of 927 billion dollars in 2022. At the same time, the EU’s trade deficit with China has increased by 930 percent, from 46 billion dollars in 2001 to 429 billion dollars in 2022. Chinese direct investment in the EU is mainly concentrated in three countries: France, Germany and Hungary. Specifically, Chinese exports to France have risen from less than 4 billion dollars in 2001 to 42 billion dollars in 2022, while French exports to China have reached 25 billion dollars.

Germany & China

Federal Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz said that he saw China’s recent development changes and Germany-China cooperation are of vital importance to the world’s future, during his last month visit to China.

He said that the global population could exceed 10 billion in the next 30 years, and countries around the world need to make greater efforts to face the many associated challenges. He noted that Germany-China cooperation is not only relevant to the two countries — it is related to the future of the world. He added that Germany and China need to expand cooperation in fields such as climate change, renewable energy development, trade and investment, and the research and development of innovative technology.

Back then – Industry 4.0

A new type of intelligent manufacturing with “awareness” composed of intelligent sensing control systems, big data and the Internet of Things was first proposed in Germany.

China and Germany collaborated on Industry 4.0. China has significant advantages when it comes to internet connectivity (5G), big data, IoT, etc. During the Merkel period, Germany chose to strengthen cooperation with China on Industry 4.0. Therefore, during the Merkel period, Germany chose to strengthen cooperation with China on Industry 4.0.

China needs to rely on the power of Germany because its ambition is not only in Industry 4.0, but also in setting rules.

The most important thing in the world is setting the rules of the game. The United States relies on the rules it sets to strengthen its global influence because the world has been operating under Western rules.

China must become a rule maker, not just a technology provider, if it wants to gain global influence.

To complete the transformation from technology provider to rule maker, it is necessary to formulate global technology standardization

How to play in this field is defined by technical standardization. The products and technology trajectories in this field will be locked under the rules I set, forming a technical path dependence.

China, for instance, intends to establish guidelines for 5G, the Internet of Things, and smart manufacturing.

It’s tough for China to become a rule maker on its own after all these years of playing by Western rules. A “guide” is needed in China.

Germany is China’s guide.

In 2020, the United States noticed that there was a close “technical standardization cooperation” between China and Germany. The dominant position in the formulation of global technical standards will be impacted by this collaboration between China and Germany. “The United States is absent from this most important technical standards-setting conference in the world,” the American media warned at that time.

This was a secret to everyone. China’s plans to standardize technology and change the international order were discussed in many papers in Europe that year.

The biggest “common interest” between China and Germany can be described as this. This huge interest in jointly formulating the rules of the game far surpasses the trade between China and Germany and the car competition between China and Germany.

Germany has been known as the “hidden champion” for many years. Tech accumulation and rule-making involvement in Germany are very strong.

Germany has extensive experience formulating technical rules, while China has just stepped into this field and lacks experience. The veteran of Germany is required to steer the ship through numerous twists and turns. Germany can continue to occupy an important position under the new rules of Industry 4.0 by taking advantage of China’s technological and data advantages.

This cooperation seemed to have a bright future.

Russia-Ukraine war

In 2021, Merkel stepped down, and just one year later, the Russia-Ukraine war broke out in February 2022.

The Russo-Ukrainian war destroyed the prospects for technical standardization cooperation between China and Germany. The dream of China and Germany collaborating to establish the rules of the technological game is crushed. The focus in Germany has shifted to war and security overnight.

A country’s perspective on things becomes ‘black and white’ when its focus shifts to safety. There is no neutral space, and you are either my friend or my enemy.

The Russo-Ukrainian war triggered Germany’s innate security apprehension, resulting in a significant shift in Germany’s diplomatic strategy. Germany began to pay close attention to security and danger. Russia is seen as a security threat and China as a security risk.

Even though China is a “security hazard” rather than a “security threat”, this change is enough to stifle the great prospects for cooperation between China and Germany, and it’s enough to put an end to the ambitious goal of China and Germany to formulate future technical standards together.

The Russo-Ukrainian war had such a great impact that it awakened the ghost of war in Europe. Although China has been trying to “remain neutral”, for war-related parties like Germany, “remaining neutral” is already a “risk”.

What Now ?

China remains the same, and seeks opportunities to work together instead of arguing. It’s Europe that has changed.

“It’s not in China’s interest today to have a Russia that destabilizes the international order,” Macron, the French president, said in an interview with The Economist published on Thursday. “We need to work with China to build peace.”

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