It is not little thing to observe that the EU most powerful leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, last week (20-31 August) visited China for a second time this year, after just six months. If we also take into consideration that, this time (she had previously visited Beijing in early February this year), Merkel headed a big delegation of nine members of the Cabinet and numerous German businesspeople, we can state this visit does beyond regular diplomatic boundaries even at this time of an acceleration of history due to globalisation.
First of all, because Germany is practically the strongest political voice today in Europe and its commitments in the international arena say enough on the continental orientations in the global arena. Secondly, because, if it is evident that, if China needs German technology to continue its surprising economic growth, it is equally true that Germany needs the Chinese financial and political support in the dossier of settling the euro crisis that shakes the foundations of the European Union.
Such support is the more so important as some important events – deemed crucial by some – for the future of the European Union will take place in the next two weeks: the decision on September 12 of the German Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the country’s participation in the European Stability Mechanism (ESM),providing financing to states in financial difficulty and, the same day, the legislative election in the Netherlands, where the Europhile political centre is under the powerful besiege of Euroskeptical political forces and where the poll leading left-wing party proposes a national referendum on the already accepted European Fiscal Pact. It is obvious that, if such a referendum says ‘No’ to the Pact, the eurozone and the EU will have a gloomy if not sealed future ahead. Thirdly but not least, the German political scene shows signals of dissidence with major continental consequences, with strong voices within the ruling coalition (Bavarian conservatives) urging a drastic approach to the European financial crisis by excluding Greece and putting the EU on a different path of evolution than the one we have had so far (with two or even several ‘speeds’). Under such conditions, to the German Chancellor convincing the Chinese partner whose support she asked in February to continue providing it has become a matter of primordial urgency in Berlin.
It is also the main message Chancellor Merkel took to Beijing during her visit. China holds fantastic financial reserves estimated at around USD 3.2 trillion, which means that the Chinese support for solving the euro crisis could become crucial, the country being practically the only one that, at a global scale, could provide such necessary assistance. It is most experts’ opinion that China has an interest in keeping the euro as a strong currency at an international level, capable of being a competitor for the US dollar, therefore the German message obviously met an interested addressee. The only thing is that – surprise! – this time, the German chancellor also had to listen to the not at all disinterested advice of the Chinese partners. According to a column published by the German financial newspaper ‘Handelsblatt’, ‘Wen (Chinese PM) said he was <personally very concerned> about the euro zone and explained to Merkel how she could solve the crisis: Europeans must restore confidence by finding a balance between frugality and economic stimulus. In short, the EU can not destroy economic growth through austerity measures. That is closer to the American position than to the German one.’ And it is – if we may add – also the demand of the European political left, that finds more and more supporters in the public opinion (see the results of the presidential and legislative elections in France, among other). Beijing’s answer is clear: economic growth in Europe – therefore incentivising measures – is the guarantee that we will recover our investment.
The fact that Merkel has visited China again as the bearer of this principal message but also that, unlike during previous visits, she set aside or communicated in a diplomatic and confidential manner to Chinese partners her concerns about Beijing’s human rights policy shows some important changes of substance in the bilateral relations.
First of all, a relevant thing is the perception that Germany’s relations with China are the most important ones developed by Berlin outside its Western alliance, which can only suggest a growing trend in the huge political space of Eurasia. While political observers have regularly been inclined to see Germany’s relation with Russia as practically the most dynamic and significant in Eurasia apart from Berlin’s Atlantic alliance, this vision is seriously shaking this perception and considerably enforces one that has existed for a while already, namely that China has become the most important non-allied ‘European power’.
Such translation also says a lot on the perception developed in Berlin of the relation with the BRICS group. While the latter is not really a single ‘voice’ in world politics and will probably not become one on a long term either, because of some congenital flaws, Berlin seems to be giving enhanced importance to Beijing compared to Moscow in the settlement of global matters. Therefore, be it the euro crisis, support in the Iranian nuclear dossier or in the question of pacification of a Syria and full civil war – actually directly related to the former one. Looked at from these last stand points, it seems that China’s support in the UN Security Council for expediting the transition to the post-Assad era in Syria or avoiding a new Gulf war is being evaluated in Berlin as more probable than Russia’s. For that matter, it doesn’t need to be said that, in Beijing, Germany is seen as the main partner in Europe and one of the main, if not the most important, strategic partners globally.
We are therefore not only in front of a simple diplomatic visit by the head of the most powerful state on the European continent to the world’s most populated country and host of the second biggest global economy as volume, But equally a substantial change in the generation of political balances at a global level on a medium and long term. In Eurasia, this balance will considerably depend in the future on this bilateral relation in the current context.