China seeks to manage crisis, shore up ties with diplomatic flurry in Europe and Asia

China seeks to manage crisis, shore up ties with diplomatic flurry in Europe and Asia

  • Latest charm offensive indicates strategic importance of its neighbours and EU countries in the long game with Washington
  • Foreign Minister Wang Yi is on a five-nation European tour, and Politburo member Yang Jiechi is also expected to visit the continent this week

As the geopolitical acrimony continues to grow between the world’s two biggest economies ahead of the US presidential election, Beijing is apparently feeling the heat from Washington.

China has sent its top diplomats on whirlwind tours of Europe and Asia in a scramble to shore up ties and repair its coronavirus-battered image, amid fears that the conflict with the US may turn into a new Cold War.

Days after Politburo member and top diplomat Yang Jiechi wrapped up a visit to Singapore and South Korea, Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrived in Europe on Tuesday for a tour of Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, France and Germany.

Beijing’s latest charm offensive marks a return to face-to-face meetings after months of virtual communications, and observers say it underlines the diplomatic priorities for China as it tries to manage the crisis resulting from its aggressive coronavirus diplomacy and tit-for-tat confrontation with the US.

“China sees a strategic imperative, not opportunity, to engage in such moves as part of the contestation of influence and narratives against the perceived US-led containment scheme,” said Collin Koh, a research fellow from the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University.

While observers note that Beijing appears to have reined in its belligerent Wolf Warrior-style diplomats – a reference to a popular nationalistic movie franchise in China – they say it is too early to tell whether its foreign policy direction has changed as the country faces increasing international pushback.

“To be sure, China’s rhetoric may be more accommodating, but tensions remain high in the South and East China seas as well as with India, in large part as a result of Beijing adopting a more assertive defence posture over the last few months,” said Benoit Hardy-Chartrand, an international affairs expert at Temple University in Tokyo.

In addition, he noted that recent public surveys had shown a significant drop in favourability towards China in countries including the US, Britain, France, Italy, Canada, South Korea and India.