Published: 17:39, May 17, 2024
Xi’s Europe tour signals new era of ties
By Xu Wei in Beijing, Xu Yifan in Washington and Chen Weihua in Budapest

Significance of visits to France, Serbia and Hungary goes far beyond bilateral relations, analysts say

President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, wave on their departure from the airport in Budapest on May 10, 2024. The Chinese leader flew back to Beijing after concluding a six-day visit to Europe that took him to France, Serbia and Hungary. (FENG YONGBIN / CHINA DAILY)

President Xi Jinping’s six-day trip to Europe has opened new chapters of relationships with China’s key partners and heralds a new era of ties with Europe through enhanced solidarity, mutual trust, and confidence, according to senior diplomats and analysts.

Xi’s recently concluded tour of France, Serbia, and Hungary — which included over 30 diplomatic engagements with leaders of the three countries between May 5 and 10 — was a resounding success, with implications and significance far beyond the bilateral level, they said.

In France, the president’s visit, which coincided with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of bilateral relations, set the stage for reaffirming a long-standing partnership.

Beijing and Paris signed 18 bilateral cooperation documents in areas such as green development, aviation, agrifood, commerce, and people-to-people exchanges. They also issued four joint statements on the situation in the Middle East, artificial intelligence and global governance, partnership in biodiversity and oceans, and agricultural cooperation.

In an interview with reporters after the visit concluded, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that Xi and French President Emmanuel Macron had reached a host of key consensuses on developing bilateral relations, while agreeing to consolidate the strategic stability of bilateral ties and tap the broad potential of mutually beneficial cooperation.

The two leaders pledged steps to accelerate people-to-people exchanges and build greater consensus on global cooperation.

Interactions between the two heads of state at Tourmalet — a pass in the Pyrenees mountain range that is dear to Macron because he enjoyed visiting his grandmother there when he was a child — marked a major highlight of Xi’s France trip.

Elsewhere, at a trilateral meeting in Paris with Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Xi said there is neither geopolitical conflict nor fundamental conflict of interests between China and the EU.

Xi pointed out that this relationship does not target any third party, nor should it be dependent on or dictated by any third party, and that China and the EU should continue to see each other as partners, and stay committed to dialogue and cooperation.

In response to the West’s so-called overcapacity narrative, Xi noted that China’s new energy enterprises have not only enriched global supply and alleviated the pressure of global inflation, but also contributed significantly to global climate response and green transition.

Xi stressed that whether viewed from the perspective of comparative advantage or global market demand, there is no such thing as “overcapacity.”

On the Ukraine crisis, Xi has clarified that China did not create the Ukraine crisis, nor is it a party to it, but rather, China has been working vigorously to facilitate talks for peace all along.

China has the sincerity, positive actions, and principled position. China does not accept any remarks or actions that use the crisis to discredit China and incite a new Cold War.

China and France also agreed to take the Paris Olympic Games as an opportunity to advocate for a global cease-fire and cessation of hostilities during the Games, to speak out for the peaceful settlement of hotspot issues, and to contribute to the construction of a world of lasting peace and universal security.

On the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Xi said China supports the convening of a more broad-based, more authoritative and more effective international peace conference as soon as possible to promote the comprehensive, just and lasting settlement of the Palestinian question at an early date.

The Chinese president’s trip to Belgrade and Budapest cemented the elevation of ties with two of China’s key European partners. This was underpinned by a host of bilateral agreements to build up economic, trade, and people-to-people exchanges.

In Belgrade, Xi and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic signed a joint statement on building a China-Serbia community with a shared future in the new era, while China unveiled six major steps to support the move, including a free trade agreement taking effect on July 1 and the opening of more direct flights.

Wang said that building a community with a shared future not only signifies the deepening of the long-standing friendship between China and Serbia but also highlights the values that are common to both sides.

It will undoubtedly become a new milestone in the history of China-Serbia relations, helping both countries to accelerate their respective modernization processes and expand the vibrant practice of building a community with a shared future for mankind, he said.

A landmark moment of the trip was the gathering of around 20,000 people in front of the Palace of Serbia to greet the Chinese president, with people in the crowd waving the flags of the two nations and cheering for China.

The moment “evoked a keen feeling on the genuine sentiment of the Serbian people toward the Chinese people and their profound respect for President Xi,” Wang said.

In Budapest, the traditional friendship was harnessed as the two nations pledged to build an all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership for the new era.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto described the visit as “a milestone in bilateral relations”, saying that the elevation of bilateral ties reflected the rightfulness of the nation’s China policy.

“We are very happy with the Chinese investments in Hungary. We encourage more to come because they’re modern, state-of-the-art investments which create a lot of jobs. This is good for our national economy, good for our people and our families,” he said.

Foreign experts and analysts have commended Xi’s recent state visits, calling them pivotal for constructive economic cooperation and significant for bilateral and multilateral relations.

They noted Xi’s joint statement with Macron, his building of a China-Serbia community with a shared future in the new era with Vucic, and his elevation with Prime Minister Viktor Orban of bilateral ties between China and Hungary to an all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership for the new era.

“These are huge achievements for all the countries involved, including China, France, Serbia, and Hungary. And they point the way toward constructive engagement for economic development and employment,” Jack Midgley, principal of global consultancy Midgley & Co, told China Daily.

As China’s economic and political influence grow, Europe must decide how to engage with China independently from the United States, said Midgley. “We should do that outside the shadow of the US. Let’s do this on the basis of mutual interest,” he said.

“The China-Europe relationships are characterized in economic terms by the development of infrastructure, the development of employment, foreign investment, and so forth,” said Midgley, who is also an adjunct associate professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University in Washington. “This allows a more practical discussion, and it encourages countries to view the relationship in bilateral terms.”

Jelena Grubor Stefanovic, director of the representative office of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in China, said that Xi’s historic visit is a boost to the further expansion of economic relations and trade between China and Serbia.

“Everyone is eagerly awaiting the FTA to go into force in July — as it is an opportunity for all. This FTA is one of the most important agreements Serbia has signed in the last couple of decades and is something that will create a new momentum for our economy in the future,” Stefanovic said.

Gyorgy Matolcsy, head of Magyar Nemzeti Bank (MNB), the central bank of Hungary, said he hopes that President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Hungary will take bilateral relations to new heights of economic and cultural exchanges.

The Hungarian politician and economist served as Minister of National Economy during the first two terms of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

“I would like to underscore that cooperation is a win-win-win game for both Europe and Asia, and together we can win the future,” said the 69-year-old, who has visited China many times.

“President Xi Jinping strives for establishing win-win partnerships, which is the only viable way for the international community to thrive in the long run.”

Hungarian Workers’ Party President Gyula Thurmer said that China today offers cooperation to the world as a solid and strong partner. “It eliminated mass poverty and became the second-largest economy in the world. The Chinese economy grew by 5 percent last year, and its development is backed by innovation and modern industrialization.”

More importantly, he said, China “does not prescribe prescriptions for Hungary, nor does it even give advice on what the Hungarian state should be like”.

Andrey Karneev, head of the School of Oriental Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Moscow, said that Russia highly valued the results of Xi’s efforts as he advocated holding at a proper time an international peace conference that is recognized by both Russia and Ukraine and ensures the equal participation of all parties and fair discussions on all peace plans.

Ren Qi in Moscow, Zheng Wanyin in London, Yang Ran in Beijing, and Xinhua contributed to this story.

Contact the writers at xuwei@chinadaily.com.cn