While there is an increasingly tense political atmosphere between the European Union and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), everything indicates that the withdrawal of German Chancellor Angela Merkel would have a decisive effect on this relationship of high international impact.
Angela Merkel has become the CCP’s strongest ally in the West, as evidenced by her 12 trips hosted by the CCP to China, according to the South China Morning Post on July 25.
“She is a very powerful force behind this,” said Max Zenglein, chief economist of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) in Berlin. “Just look at how many times she’s been to China to foster the relationship, this was seen as a very important issue in creating her legacy.”
Despite the strong economic ties between the E.U. and the Chinese regime, the discrepancies have become increasingly noticeable in recent years, as Zenglein describes.
“There is a growing awareness in the E.U. that China [the CCP] has not fulfilled many of its previous commitments, that it is a strategic competitor and that it is at best a questionable partner,” Zenglein told the Nikkei Asian Review.
“This rethinking began in 2017 after it became all too apparent that China’s economic and political system had become increasingly incompatible with E.U. values,” Zenglein added.
If we add to this picture the conflicts that this year has increased many nations’ distrust of the Chinese regime, the future state of E.U.–China relations becomes even more uncertain.
In this sense, the establishment of the trade treaty between the E.U. and the Chinese regime, which has been under negotiation for years, could mean strengthening their relationship, or a further weakening if it does not materialize.
“If those negotiations fail—as many now hope—then it is likely that the E.U. will shift to a strengthening agenda with China, using the means at its disposal in a more robust way than we have seen so far,” said Andrew Small, an expert on E.U.–China relations at the German Marshall Fund’s think tank.
Powers such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia have markedly changed their positions towards the CCP. Although reluctantly, the E.U. is following the same adverse path towards the Chinese regime.
The E.U.’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, expressed himself in this sense.
“Not only are we discovering today that China is a communist country with an authoritarian regime. What is new is that Beijing sees itself as a world power and is acting like one,” Borrell said, adding: “The West was naive about China; we thought that with increased trade there would be a change.”
Under these circumstances, Angela Merkel seems to continue to support the CCP.
“I have a hard time seeing any progress in Merkel to make her realize this change,” Zenglein said in MERICS. “I think she’s still stuck in this past sense of optimism about how China will evolve as Europe’s partner, and [she] has not adapted properly to the new reality? and it’s very possible that the Chinese leaders are betting on this to seal a deal.”
Nevertheless, some believe that when she retires, French President Emmanuel Macron will emerge stronger, and possibly further alienate the Chinese regime from Europe, given the unfavorable allusions he has made.
Macron is quoted in the book ‘The Last President of Europe’ by William Drozdiak as saying, “We must be careful of any Chinese strategy that might exploit us. Control of maritime routes, cables, infrastructure, and transport in Europe: this is not compatible with our interests. Chinese policy in this context is hegemonic, and we must push back. … Chinese policy in this context is hegemonic, and we must retreat.”
If the trade treaty on which the two powers are working does not materialize. Given Merkel’s retirement, after 15 years of leadership in Europe and support for the CCP, Macron’s expressions mark a cooling of relations with the Chinese regime.