Chinese President Xi Jinping He could be forgiven if he was a little distracted during yesterday’s six-hour virtual summit with the European Union. The Chinese premier is addressing the very immediate issue of a new Covid-19 outbreak that has placed 26million people in Shanghai in lockdown. This corresponds to about a third of the population of Germany.
The summit was arranged before Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but took on new meaning when bombs landed in Kyiv.
Beijing’s growing proximity to Moscow and its refusal to call the war an invasion weren’t the only things on European leaders’ minds.
Just two days earlier, Chinese and Russian foreign ministers met and agreed that they “are more determined to develop bilateral ties.”
The EU wants a rethink and assures that China will not help the West’s new enemy – Russia.
With so much focus on events in Ukraine, China – the greater potential threat to global stability – has slipped off the radar.
It’s a one-party state with autocratic control, an appalling human rights record, and a genuine determination to retake Western ally Taiwan.
If Western complacency towards Putin encouraged him to invade Ukraine, could a similar scenario emerge with China?
Putin’s political ambitions extend to the borders of the old Soviet Union. China is the second largest economy in the world and is on track to overtake the US within 10 years.
With 1.4 billion mouths, it has invested money, time and capital in building relationships around the world. It has become the world’s largest source of credit for Africa. Chinese banks provide about a fifth of all credit on the continent.
Its efforts have paid off as it is Africa’s largest trading partner.
China enjoys increasing access to the continent’s natural resources, and its construction and engineering firms are responsible for 31 percent of all major infrastructure projects in Africa.
Not so long ago, US and European firms accounted for 85 percent of that.
Its economic power and influence have spread widely in Latin America, where Chinese firms have invested $75 billion over the past 15 years.
His growing economic and political ties with Russia are now in the spotlight. Just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine, China signed $117 billion oil and gas deals with its Putin-led neighbor.
Russia will deliver pipeline gas to China equal to half what it delivers to Europe over the next 25 years. Russian oil giant Rosneft, whose chief executive has been sanctioned in the West, has signed a 10-year, $80 billion oil supply deal with China.
China is Russia’s second-largest customer when it comes to military and defense equipment, and there has been speculation that Beijing may export high-end IT gear like microchips to Russia.
Economic and trade relations with Ireland have grown rapidly.
A few years ago, then-Attorney General Charlie Flanagan spoke at an event celebrating the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. He said Relations between Dublin and Beijing are getting “stronger with each passing year”.
Trade between Ireland and China is around €8 billion a year and we sell €3.5 billion more goods than China sells to us.
China is now our second largest agri-food export market after the EU.
Four of the top five Chinese banks have strategic operations here and 92 Irish companies employ more than 10,000 people in China.
An EU report on our Immigrant Investor Programme, which grants Irish investment visas to wealthy individuals, says that 90 per cent of successful applications were from Chinese nationals.
From a purely economic point of view, China has been a great success for Irish business, investment and jobs. Our attempts to break away from our dependence on the UK for exports and the US for foreign investment are paying off with Beijing.
Ireland has positioned itself as a small, stable, neutral country that doesn’t really argue with anyone.
But as Larry Fink, head of $10 trillion wealth manager Blackrock, said last week, the globalization we’ve enjoyed for the past three decades is nearing its end.
Shorter supply routes, protectionism and geopolitics are coming to the fore. Ireland’s former marketing ‘shtick’ may not make it. We need to step up and take a stand together with our EU colleagues.
It is ironic that EU leaders did most of the talking at yesterday’s virtual summit as they look for something from Xi Jinping. The leadership in China can simply ask, “Well, what’s in it for us?”
Threats from Brussels about EU-China trade relations will not carry much weight in Beijing in a week when Germany is giving details of how an emergency energy rationing program will work.
Putin’s invasion offers China an ideal opportunity. It can buy a lot of cheap gas and oil from Moscow. There is even speculation that Chinese firms are trying to buy stakes in ailing Russian energy companies.
It can do something for the EU and the US by withdrawing from Russia, but Beijing will certainly insist on something in return.
With a seat on the UN Security Council and a rapidly changing geopolitical situation in all directions, Ireland faces some tough choices about who to do business with going forward
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/chinas-enthusiasm-to-build-closer-ties-with-russia-gives-us-and-eu-lots-to-think-about-41512422.html China’s enthusiasm to forge closer ties with Russia gives us and the EU much to think about