France, Germany play safe during China Premier Li's European trip
HAMBURG, Germany -- Chinese Premier Li Qiang avoided public clashes on a high-profile visit to Germany and France this week, in what analysts see as a sign of the European nations' reluctance to alienate Beijing.
Li's closely watched first overseas trip since becoming his country's No. 2 leader in March is viewed as highlighting German fears about exposure to the Chinese economy and France's will to cooperate with Beijing where possible.
The choice of Germany and France for Li's six-day tour reflects both their status as the European Union's two leading powers and the more problematic relations between Beijing and other European capitals. Italy is currently discussing a withdrawal from China's infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative, Eastern European countries are put off by Beijing's support for Moscow, and northern European countries are growing increasingly wary about China and Russia's ambitions in the Arctic.
"This larger picture puts Germany and France into China's focus, with Germany being China's chess piece for preventing anti-China protectionism from slowing the Chinese economy further," said Reinhard Biedermann, a German professor of international relations at Tamkang University in Taipei.
"France, for its part, is China's chess piece for the safeguarding of a Europe that is not drawn by the U.S. against China."
Like in Berlin, Li was given an unusually high-profile treatment in Paris, with French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin meeting him before a meeting with the president. Macron raised some eyebrows when rushing down a staircase in an apparent attempt to personally open the door of Li's limousine despite protocolary standing one layer above Li.
"Like Li's Berlin visit, also the Paris visit doesn't reflect the ongoing debate in Europe about de-risking from China, human rights, Taiwan tensions and China's extraterritorial police stations in Europe," said Marc Julienne, head of China Research at the Center for Asian Studies of the French Institute of International Relations.
"Macron and Li dealt with the positive topics only and brushed the sensitive ones under the carpet, which is probably partly explained by Macron needing China's help in making his new climate financing initiative a success," Marc Julienne added.
>> Read the original article on the in Nikkei Asia website