10 May 2024, 21:58

Xi's European tour: red carpets, but 'no breakthroughs' on tensions

BUDAPEST, May  10, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - As Chinese President Xi Jinping wraps

up his European tour with his stop in Budapest, analysts say the Chinese leader
made an impression but no real breakthroughs on trade and Ukraine tensions.

This week's tour was his first to the continent since 2019 and led the
Chinese leader to France, Serbia and Hungary.

- Royal welcome -

Xi began his tour in France, where President Emmanuel Macron received him
with pomp and ceremony, including a dinner at the Elysee Palace.

But there was also a more informal day that included a trip to the French
leader's childhood haunt in the Pyrenees mountains.

Macron took Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan to taste local wine and watch a
dance performance. They offered him gifts such as berets and a Tour de France
yellow jersey.

In Belgrade, President Aleksandar Vucic showered his "friend of Serbia"
with the "respect and love" he said Xi would "not find anywhere else".

The final leg of Xi's trip took him to Hungary, Beijing's closest ally in
the European Union.

He was received with military honours, attended a gala dinner and held long
discussions at the residence of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

"For Xi, it was a good trip" that placed him again at the centre of
international attention, said Bernhard Bartsch, a specialist in Europe-China
relations at the Mercator Institute for China Studies.

"In France, he got the media images that his home audience expects of him
as a respected global leader," he told AFP.

Xi's trips to Serbia and Hungary were "a show of force" aimed at throwing
his political weight behind "the two governments that pose the greatest
challenge to European unity".

- 'No breakthrough' -

Analyst Ja Ian Chong from the University of Singapore however said he
wouldn't qualify Xi's trip to Europe as a "victory".

"There was no breakthrough," he said, even though Macron had invited
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to Paris to press Xi over
imbalances in global trade.

It remains to be seen whether Xi's trip will result in "a clear and
persistent European commitment not to take action on their trade dispute with
(China), including on alleged overcapacity and dumping," he explained.

In recent months, the EU has stepped up its investigations into alleged
unfair trade practices by China in different sectors, from solar panels to
electric vehicle subsidies.

Beijing has slammed the moves as "protectionism".

While Xi flaunted China's flourishing "global strategic partnership" with
Hungary, it is unclear to what extent it has convinced other EU countries for
whom "material gains... may not always be the top goal," notes Chong.

"The trip has done little or nothing to improve Europe's strategic
confidence or trust in Beijing direction," said Rory Medcalf, head of the
National Security College at the Australian National University.

It did not help that Xi chose to visit Belgrade and Budapest, while
avoiding other major capitals such as Berlin and Brussels, thus potentially
"accentuating the message that NATO and China are security rivals, even

- War in Ukraine -

During the visit to France, Macron thanked Xi for backing his idea of a
truce in all conflicts, including Ukraine, during the Paris Olympics this

But the Chinese leader -- who is due to host Russian President Vladimir
Putin in China later this month -- did not appear to be willing to compromise
on his relations with Moscow.

Xi also warned against using the Ukraine crisis "to cast blame, smear a
third country and incite a new Cold War", insisting that Beijing was playing a
"positive role" in trying to find a peaceful solution to the conflict.

Some European countries are concerned that while officially neutral over
the Ukraine conflict, China is essentially backing Russia, which is using
Chinese machine tools in arms production.

"Macron and von der Leyen have clearly explained the European position to
Xi on Russia's war against Ukraine, but there are no signs that the Chinese
position will fundamentally change," said Bartsch.

Especially since the trip ended with Orban, who is also close to the
Kremlin and who praised China's crucial efforts to "promote peace in the

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