GERMANY. Berlin: On Thursday, Germany’s foreign minister begins a trip to China to reassert a unified European Union (EU) position towards Beijing, days after French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments suggested disarray in the continent’s strategy towards the burgeoning superpower.
Macron sparked a backlash in the U.S. and Europe when he urged the European Union to become less dependent on the U.S. and warned against getting dragged into a Taiwan crisis fueled by an “American rhythm and a Chinese overreaction.”
Many European politicians, diplomats, and experts viewed Macron’s remarks in an interview with Politico and the French newspaper Les Echos as a gift to what they claim was Beijing’s aim of dismantling transatlantic solidarity.
As a result, the importance of German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s first trip has increased, and many EU countries are hoping Berlin will take advantage of the occasion to establish an unambiguous and unifying EU line on China, said analysts.
Macron was broadly seen as taking a soft line on Taiwan by cautioning Europe not to get “caught up in crises that are not ours”—although his administration insisted this was not his intended meaning and his position on China and Taiwan had not changed.
“Now it is about damage control to a large degree … But the cloud of Macron’s visit is very big, and still it’s very unclear how this balance will play out in the end,” said Alicja Bachulska, a China-EU ties researcher at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Warsaw.
Even without Macro’s comment, the visit would have been fragile for Baerbock, who has been more critical of China than Chancellor Olaf Scholz and is developing a China strategy aimed at lessening Berlin’s economic reliance on Beijing.
“She was sort of perceived as being a troublemaker. I’d be surprised if this does not play a role at all in her visit,” said Tim Ruehlig, a China expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations.
Nils Schmid, a German foreign policy parliamentarian, said that Baerbock now needs to make Germany’s position on Taiwan clear during her visit, adding that Macron’s comments have squandered any prospect of a single European China strategy.
The foreign minister is set to meet her counterpart, Qin Gang, and China’s senior diplomat, Wang Yi, during the two-day trip.
Speaking ahead of her trip, Baerbock said the top of her agenda will be reminding China of its obligation to urge Russia to cease its invasion of Ukraine and reaffirming a unified European belief that a unilateral change in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait would be unacceptable.
Europe’s perspective of China as a partner, systemic rival, and competitor is the compass of its guideline, she added.
“It is clear to me that we have no interest in economic decoupling … but we must take a more systematic look at the risks of one-sided dependencies and reduce them,” said Baerbock.
Some EU capitals, especially those in Central and Eastern Europe, which value their relationships with the United States, will be hoping Baerbock’s position is more in line with that of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who travelled to Beijing at the same time as Macron.
Many analysts compared Macron’s comments to those of von der Leyen, who was generally regarded as being more critical of Beijing. Just days before the visit, she stated that Europe must “de-risk” politically and economically with a hardening China.
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