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China’s approach to Europe? Anti-diplomacy

By Prospect Magazine

20 Mar 2023 · 14 min read

Editor's Note

Locked in strategic rivalry with the US, China should be launching a counterbalancing charm offensive in Europe. But as Isabel Hilton writes in Prospect, it appears to be taking the opposite approach.

A man in late middle age, known as a relatively subtle diplomat who, unusually for a senior Chinese official, speaks fluent Japanese, Wang Yi has been a familiar figure on the diplomatic circuit for years, including in his former role as foreign minister. In China, that is a relatively junior job in the hierarchy: the incumbent is charged with executing policy made at the senior level of the Communist Party. 

But last year, Wang was promoted to the Party’s 24-member Politburo and now occupies China’s top foreign policy job. When he set out last month for his first trip to Europe in his new role, he had a daunting to-do list: restoring China’s deeply damaged image in Europe; trying to remove the political obstacles to a revival of trade and investment with the EU; convincing European leaders not to align themselves with an increasingly China-hostile United States and persuading the diplomatic hawks of the Munich Security Conference—an audience that could fairly be described as sceptical—of the merits of the “common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security advocated by President Xi Jinping”, as well as of “China’s abiding commitment to peaceful development”. Added to the list was paying a courtesy call to the EU’s illiberal leader, Viktor Orbán—and all this before heading to Moscow in time to mark the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with Vladimir Putin, and to prepare the ground for his boss, Xi Jinping’s, visit to Moscow this week. That visit, 14 months into the brutal war, may well make Wang Yi’s job even harder.

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