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Xi Jinping push to loosen Europe ties with US, selects France, Serbia and Hungary for new global order

China President Xi Jinping has chosen three countries to visit — France, Serbia and Hungary — that each, to a greater or lesser degree, look askance at America’s post-war ordering of the world, see China as a necessary counterweight and are eager to bolster economic ties.

At a time of tensions with much of Europe — over China’s “no limits” embrace of Russia despite the war in Ukraine, its surveillance state and its apparent espionage activities that led to the recent arrest in Germany of four people — Xi, who is arriving in France on Sunday, wants to demonstrate China’s growing influence on the continent and pursue a pragmatic rapprochement.

For Europe, the visit will test its delicate balancing act between China and the US, and will no doubt be seen in Washington as a none-too-subtle effort by Xi to divide Western allies.

He has timed his arrival at his second stop, Serbia, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the deadly Nato bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo war. That mistaken strike on May 7, 1999, for which the White House apologised, killed three Chinese journalists and ignited furious protests around the US embassy in Beijing.

“For Xi, being in Belgrade is a very economical way to ask if the US is really serious about international law,” said Janka Oertel, the director of the Asia programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, “and to say, how about Nato overreach as a problem for other countries?”

The Chinese government has continued to commemorate the Belgrade bombing, using it as an occasion to denounce what it sees as Western hypocrisy and bullying.

“The US always views itself as the leader — or hegemon — of the world, so China is a competitor or adversary that is challenging its hegemony,” said Tu Xinquan, the dean of a trade institute at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. “The European Union does not have a hegemonic mindset.”

The official doctrine of the 27-member European Union defines China as “a partner for cooperation, an economic competitor and a systemic rival”. If that seems a mouthful, and perhaps contradictory one, it is because the continent is torn between how to balance economic opportunity in China with national security risk, cybersecurity risk and economic risk to various industries.

In March, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi told reporters that Europe’s formula was unworkable. “It’s like driving to a crossing and finding the red, yellow and green lights all on at the same time. How can one drive on?”

Now, Xi would like to ease the lights toward green.

To that end, Xi’s first and most important stop will be in France, whose President Emmanuel Macron has often made the Gaullist point that Europe “must never be a vassal of the US,” as he did last month at a speech at the Sorbonne. The French leader insists that the survival of the European Union depends on “strategic autonomy” and developing the military resilience to become a “Europe power”. He rejects the notion of “equidistance” between China and the US — France is one of America’s oldest allies — but wants to keep his options open.

All of this is music to Xi’s ears.

“Macron is trying to bring a third way in the current global chaos,” said Philippe Le Corre, a prominent French expert on relations with China. “He is trying to walk a fine line between the two main superpowers.”

Just over a year ago, Macron was lavishly entertained during a visit to China that ended with a Sino-French declaration of a “global strategic partnership”. The French leader echoed the Chinese lexicon of a “multipolar” world, freed of “blocs” and the “Cold War mentality”.

Now, in anticipation of Xi’s visit, China has praised France as a great power and expressed hopes that their ties “will always be at the forefront of China’s relations with Western countries”, in the words of Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, in People’s Daily.

Macron, who recently warned that “our Europe is mortal” and will be saved only if it can become “sovereign”, will host a state dinner in Paris for Xi on Monday before, in a personal touch, ushering him to a favourite childhood haunt in the Pyrenees.

The chemistry between the two men appears to lie essentially in a shared view that the post-war order is moribund and must be replaced by a new architecture that takes account of shifting power. That Xi is almost certainly the most repressive and authoritarian leader in recent Chinese history, and that China’s military threats to Taiwan have intensified, has not come between the two leaders.

Source: The Telegraph Online