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China’s European Diplomacy Tour

‌Noah Barkin on China’s European Diplomacy Tour 

Noah Barkin is a senior visiting fellow in GMF's Asia Program based in Berlin.

‌China’s top diplomat Wang Yi just spent a week in Europe. What did China hope to accomplish?

‌The main goal of this trip was to prevent a transatlantic front against China. Beijing's image in Europe has suffered quite a bit over the past months because of its aggressive diplomacy during the pandemic, its refusal to budge in investment treaty negotiations with the EU, but especially because of its security crackdown in Hong Kong and its reeducation camps in Xinjiang.

‌China sees this growing backlash in Europe. It knows that there could be a new president sitting in the White House come January who has vowed to work with Europe on China. So this was an attempt at damage control by the Chinese government.

‌How has Europe reacted? Has China succeeded in controlling the damage?

‌We've seen different nuances in each country that Wang Yi visited. But the common thread has been a rather robust pushback, by European standards, against China's actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Wang did not do himself any favors during his trip by casting doubt on whether the coronavirus originated in China, threatening a Czech politician for visiting Taiwan, and warning the Nobel committee while he was in Norway not to give its peace prize to Hong Kong democracy activists.

‌Surprisingly, the last stop on his tour, Berlin, was the most uncomfortable for him. He faced some tough questions from journalists and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called on China to withdraw its national security law in Hong Kong and allow an independent international observer mission to inspect China's reeducation camps in Xinjiang. It was the toughest news conference that a Chinese official has faced in Europe in recent memory.


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