Italy, France, Germany Decouple from Decoupling

Events of the past weeks show that major European countries, despite heavy political pressure, are not willing to economically decouple from China, after decoupling from Russia – at least not completely.

We reported in our last issues on German Chancellor Scholz’s visit to Beijing and on the statement by major corporate leaders on the importance of maintaining and expanding economic cooperation with China. A similar statement was issued at the conclusion of the meeting between Xi Jinping and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who met on Nov. 16 on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Bali. The meeting was characterized by a spirit of friendship and cooperation, disappointing all those who had hoped the new Italian leader would inaugurate a new, China-bashing policy.

The China-Italy Silk Road Memorandum of 2019 was not mentioned, but it was decided to reactivate institutional forms of cooperation launched under that document. The two leaders referred to the millenary history of both countries as the cultural basis for mutually profitable relations. As Beijing’s Foreign ministry reported: “As two ancient civilizations, China and Italy are comprehensive strategic partners that share broad common interests and a profound foundation for cooperation.”

The areas in which President Xi proposed to explore the potential for cooperation include “high-end manufacturing, clean energy, aviation and aerospace and third-party markets. China promotes high-level opening-up and will import more quality products from Italy.” Furthermore, Italy is invited to be the guest of honor of the 2023 China International Consumer Products Expo.

As for Giorgia Meloni, she said, according to China’s State Council, that Italy does not approve of bloc confrontation, and “believes that countries should respect their differences and disagreements, strengthen solidarity, keep to dialogue and exchanges, and enhance mutual understanding”. She also recognized the growing importance of Asia for the world.

The Italian readout is shorter, but similar in content. So-called human rights issues were not addressed as such, but mentioned as issues to be dealt with through appropriate channels. Xi invited Meloni to China, and she accepted. Rumor has it that China will order 200 ATR42 regional aircraft from Italy.

Another signal against decoupling came from Paris where, on the same day (Nov. 15) that President Macron met Xi in Bali, a high-level Sino-French Forum took place, organized by the Chinese embassy with the participation of key figures of the French political, diplomatic and business establishment. The message delivered by Chinese ambassador Lu Shaye was: “China is not a rival or a threat to France or Europe, but rather a partner and an opportunity”. In Bali, Xi encouraged Macron to get France to “work to improve the situation of China within the EU” greatly degraded by negative media coverage and third party interference, so that the EU will continue to pursue “an independent and positive policy towards China.” He also proposed that “France and Europe reject the logic of a confrontation between blocs.”

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