By Raine Tiessalo, Ting Shi
(c) 2017, Bloomberg · ·
Apr 04, 2017 - 1:51 AM
Before his first meeting with Donald Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping will stop over in Helsinki. More than just logistics, the Finnish trip reflects a fundamental shift in commercial and diplomatic ties.
Xi is being greeted with open arms in the euro area’s northernmost territory. Finland’s prosperity, like that of much of the Nordics, depends on a smooth functioning of global trade, with few regions being more hostile to the idea of protectionism.
For the Chinese, “the signal is that the U.S. is not the only diplomatic focus for China; Europe is also very significant,” said Feng Zhongping, a vice president at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations who focuses on Chinese-European ties.
As Trump continues to promote “America First” and warns via Twitter of a “difficult” meeting ahead with Xi, the world’s manufacturing engine is carefully positioning itself for the new global order. The contrast isn’t limited to trade. In the face of the U.S. president’s skepticism toward man-made global warming, China is now placing itself alongside the European Union in the fight against climate change. The EU’s climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, said ahead of his visit to China last week that “our successful cooperation on issues like emissions trading and clean technologies are bearing fruit.”
On the diplomatic front, China also appears to be acting as a counterpoint to Trump’s calls for a breakup of the EU following the U.K.’s decision to leave the bloc.
“China is of the view that European integration is consistent with the trend of history, and a prosperous and stable Europe is conducive to world peace and development,” Xi said in an article penned for Monday’s edition of the English-language Helsinki Times. “We believe that Europe has the wisdom and capability to overcome the challenges. In this process, Europe can count on China’s support.”
But it is in the field of trade that China and Europe stand to gain the most.
“China is ready to take on a bigger role in global trade politics. That’s logical,” Finnish Trade Minister Kai Mykkanen said. “As the largest trader they have the most to lose if the world edges toward a trade war.”
The EU is already China’s main trading partner, while China is the EU’s second behind the U.S. Trade flows currently amount to well over 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) per day, but there’s scope for more. Having reiterated their commitment to free trade at the last G-20 meeting of finance ministers, China and the EU are now moving closer to even greater commercial ties.
As Olli Rehn, a Bank of Finland board member and former European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs, put it: “We may not share all the values, but we share the goal of free trade.”
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