Xi Jinping’s Europe Policy: Navigating the Geopolitical and Geostrategic Landscape

The nature of contemporary international relations is multifaceted, wherein diplomacy intersects with economic interests and geopolitical strategy and same can be seen in the foreign policy relation between China and Europe over times. In 1964, during his historic visit to Beijing to establish diplomatic ties with China, French President Charles De Gaulle made a resounding […]

The nature of contemporary international relations is multifaceted, wherein diplomacy intersects with economic interests and geopolitical strategy and same can be seen in the foreign policy relation between China and Europe over times. In 1964, during his historic visit to Beijing to establish diplomatic ties with China, French President Charles De Gaulle made a resounding declaration, asserting that France acknowledges the world as it truly is. This statement resonated with the essence of realpolitik, underlining France’s commitment to pragmatic engagement in international affairs. Fast forward to the present day, amidst a landscape of evolving global geopolitical challenges, Chinese President Xi Jinping embarks on his first trip to Europe in five years, strategically selecting France, Serbia, and Hungary as destinations. Unlike previous visits primarily driven by economic interests, this itinerary underscores a nuanced approach, emphasizing strategic imperatives over purely economic gains.
Strategic relations over economic ties
Xi’s choice of Paris holds particular significance as it coincides with the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and France. This milestone presents an opportune moment for both nations to reaffirm their commitment to bilateral cooperation while navigating complex geopolitical currents. At the forefront of discussions is France’s strategic autonomy, a cornerstone of its foreign policy framework. Against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive China and shifting dynamics within the European Union, France’s role as a key player in shaping European responses to global challenges becomes ever more pronounced. One focal point of deliberations is the need to rebalance the trade relationship between the European Union and China. Issues such as the influx of Chinese electric vehicles flooding the European market due to alleged unfair trade practices underscore the urgency of recalibrating economic ties.
In Serbia, Xi’s visit coincides with the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during NATO intervention in the former Yugoslavia. Serbia, while considering EU accession, remains supportive of Russia and wary of the Western bloc. A significant strategic shift is evident as Serbia recently signed a deal for French Rafale jets, its largest military procurement to date. However, Xi’s focus appears to be on Hungary, where he has spent considerable time emphasizing the prospect of a “golden voyage” in relations. Budapest, known for its Euroscepticism, maintains close ties with Russia and China, despite being a part of the European Union.
At a strategic level, as pressure mounts from Brussels to curb China’s support for Russia amid its conflict with Ukraine, mainland Europe is increasingly uneasy about instances of Chinese espionage. Just after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s recent visit to Beijing, three Germans were arrested for spying for China. In France, there have also been cases illustrating how China utilizes its growing influence through information operations in Europe. A study commissioned by the Institute for Strategic Research (IRSEM), the French armed forces’ official think tank, shed light on this issue. France acknowledges its limited leverage against Beijing and aligns its China policy with the broader European approach. Despite Macron’s charismatic rhetoric, he consistently ensures alignment with the European framework in his engagements with Xi Jinping. Macron’s joint encounters with Xi, including one alongside former EU Commission President Angela Merkel in 2019, underscore this approach. However, Berlin has largely pursued its own overtures to China, while Macron, despite occasional controversial statements, prioritizes the larger European framework. This dynamic reveals a vulnerability: France’s signalling to align with the EU and Germany lacks impact unless reciprocated by other major drivers of the European project like Berlin. This mismatch highlights differing visions for Europe among its prime drivers France and China have indeed entered into trade agreements and it can be seen that the era of major contracts in sectors like aeronautics, civil nuclear, and automotive is in the past. Instead, there’s a focus on increasing French exports to China to reduce the existing trade deficit of over 40 billion euros.
The disparity in Europe’s attention towards China and Japan. While China receives significant public diplomacy attention, Japan’s contributions often go unnoticed. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s recent visit to France resulted in agreements on critical mineral supply chains and discussions on joint military training. While the EU-China trade deal remains uncertain, Europe and Japan boast one of the most ambitious Free Trade Agreements globally. Japan’s significant aid to Ukraine and its commitment to indivisible security from Europe to Asia highlight its importance in European engagement in the Indo-Pacific region.

India’s “China Plus One” Strategy

Amidst ongoing discussions in Europe regarding strategies to mitigate risks associated with China, India stands poised to diversify its international relations through the implementation of a “China plus one” strategy. As Europe and China navigate the complexities of their trade and security dynamics, India recognizes an opportunity to leverage its strategic position and strengthen its alliances with Western nations. By strategically aligning itself with the West, India aims to attract European investments that are redirected away from China due to concerns over geopolitical uncertainties and market risks. This shift in investment patterns presents India with a unique opportunity to enhance its economic growth and development while simultaneously reducing its dependence on Chinese investments. Moreover, by positioning itself as an attractive alternative for European businesses seeking to diversify their supply chains and reduce exposure to geopolitical tensions, India can bolster its status as a preferred investment destination. India’s pursuit of a “China plus one” strategy represents a proactive response to evolving global dynamics. By diversifying its international relations and deepening engagements with Western nations, India can both capitalise on emerging economic opportunities and reinforce its position as a key player in shaping the geopolitical landscape of the 21st century. This strategic pivot underscores India’s adaptability and foresight in navigating complex global challenges while advancing its own interests and aspirations on the world stage.

Sharanpreet Kaur in an Assistant Professor of International Relations at School of Social Sciences, Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar. She is an alumni of  Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and has a Phd on Indo-US Nuclear and Defence Cooperation. She is the author of the book “India’s Soft Power Diplomacy: Prospects, Challenges and the Way Forward”. She writes on issues related to India’s foreign policy, global political affairs, politics of South Asia, Central Asia and West Asia.