When Donald Trump pushed to “make America great again,” he might not have counted on losing so many friends along the way. The European Union, one of Washington’s closest allies, is now increasingly wary of a protectionist US that prioritises its own interests over rivals and friends alike.
That’s left several EU Member States marching to link up with none other than China’s Belt and Road trade initiative against US warnings that the scheme leads to “debt trap” dependence on China.
The Belt and Road Initiative is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s flagship investment program, which aims to build infrastructure in nations accounting for 68% of the world’s population and 36% of its gross domestic product.
President Xi had in recent days gone on a charm offensive to a series of EU countries, selling his initiative as an alternative to the US way. Speaking in Paris on Tuesday, President Xi sang the praises of a more open economy.
“The Belt and Road Initiative has enriched the world’s multilateral system; we invite all countries, including France, to join,” President Xi said.
“We should not always be looking behind our backs. As we walk forward, we should not be standing sideways to guard against each other and wary that our partners will do something behind our backs,” President Xi added, hinting at the benefits of China-EU cooperation that did not involve the US. President Xi’s grand tour seems to be having the desired effect.
President Xi was in Rome over the weekend as Italy signed on to the Belt and Road, becoming the first western European Nation to endorse the initiative.
“Our common will is to avoid… new trade conflicts and isolationist policies,” said French President Emmanuel Macron after hosting a joint meeting with President Xi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Tuesday. He added that the EU and China had agreed to seek a “trust-based partnership.”
Chancellor Merkel went further still, stressing that the Chinese project was an important one that Europeans wanted to participate in.
“We are seeing the project as a good visualisation of interaction, interrelation and interdependence,” said Chancellor Merkel
But it’s hasn’t been all plain sailing for China. Scepticism has been growing in Europe about China’s influence, and in mid-March Brussels branded China a “Systemic Rival.”
The triangle between EU, China and US is very important, without the US, we will not be able to have multilateralism, said Angela Merkel, German Chancellor. However, she also noted that the trade war between the US and China was “hitting our German economy” and disrupting the balance.
“We understand that China does not like the expression ‘rivals’, but it is a compliment describing our shared ambitions,” said President Juncker after the four leaders met.
Although President Xi’s charm offensive worked to attract friends, the influence of US still can’t be overlooked.