China has launched a charm offensive with the European Union since U.S. President Donald Trump took office, shifting its stance on trade negotiations and signaling closer cooperation on a range of other issues, European diplomats say.
European envoys in Brussels and Beijing sense a greater urgency from China to find allies willing to stand up for globalization amid fears Trump could undermine it with his protectionist “America First” policies, reports Reuters.
“Trump is pushing China and Europe together,” said one Beijing-based diplomat, citing Chinese support for trade, combating climate change and the United Nations, all areas where the new U.S. president is seeking a change of tack.
Four senior EU diplomats and officials in close contact with the Chinese told Reuters they also see a chance for a breakthrough on business issues that have been moving slowly for years, including a special treaty to increase investment flows.
EU business groups are more skeptical, expressing growing dissatisfaction, like their U.S. counterparts, with limited market access in China and pressing for a firmer response.
Diplomats say one of the clearest outward signs of a change in tone in private diplomatic meetings has been China’s decision to drop its public campaign to be recognized by the European Union as an economy directed by the market, not the state.
The case is now being dealt with out of the limelight at the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, in what the diplomats said was a recognition by Beijing that too much pressure could provoke a protectionist backlash in Europe.
Market economy status would make it harder for the European Union to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports that Brussels judges as unfairly cheap.
“The market economy status issue, if it is raised at all now, is being discussed at a very low working level,” the diplomat said. “That is part of the charm offensive.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the issue was still a priority for Beijing, while also noting China’s interest in having the EU as a strong partner.
“We hope that the EU can genuinely place an importance on China’s reasonable concerns and interests,” Hua said.
China has told European officials it wants to bring forward its annual summit with the European Union from its usual July date, Reuters reported in February. The diplomats said efforts to find a suitable early date were continuing.