During the period from August 25 to September 1 of this year, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid visits to a number of European countries – Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, France and Germany. Since February of this year, this is the first foreign visit of Wang Yi this year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic ( All these states are major influential players within Europe, as well as important trade and economic partners of China involved in the construction of the belt and road.

On August 25, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Italy for meetings and negotiations with Italian Foreign Minister L. Di Maio. The choice of Italy as the first country of the European tour of the head of the Chinese foreign ministry is most likely due to the fact that Italy was one of the first EU countries most severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic (China provided significant humanitarian assistance to Italy), as well as the only member of the G7 that signed a Memorandum with the PRC on cooperation within the framework of the One Belt, One Road initiative in 2019(….
During the meetings, the parties discussed issues of developing a new three-year action plan to strengthen bilateral cooperation, as well as expanding cooperation through the “One Belt, One Road”initiative. In particular, China and Italy plan to create joint ventures, as well as hold a high-level Chinese-Italian congress of businessmen under the “One Belt, One Road” line in 2021.

Wang Yi expressed hope that Italy and the EU will provide a fair business environment for Chinese companies. He expressed readiness to work together to complete negotiations on the EU-China investment agreement within a year, as well as to expand cooperation in the field of the digital economy and restore world trade in the post-epidemic period. Wang Yi emphasized that Beijing stands for “multipolarity” and ” against forces aimed at undermining relations between the EU and China.”

Italian Foreign Minister L. Di Maio expressed gratitude to the Chinese side for its assistance in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the role of the PRC as an important and irreplaceable partner. The Italian side has declared its readiness to act as a mediator for the rapprochement of Europe and China. This is due to the fact that Italian foreign policy is trying to find a favorable balance between the need to maintain close relations with China (Italy is strongly interested in attracting Chinese capital) and the position of the United States, which is putting pressure on relations with China.
On August 26, Minister Wang arrived and visited the Netherlands, where he met with Prime Minister M.Rutte and Foreign Minister S. Blok. The main issues of the bilateral talks were joint efforts to normalize the situation in the field of countering the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, as well as further development in the field of trade and the recovery of the world economy.

On the development of global trade, the Chinese side voiced a call for the preservation of multilateralism, free trade and fair competition. The Chinese minister noted that China is committed to building a new open economy system and expressed hope that the Netherlands will provide non-discriminatory business conditions for Chinese companies.
The Dutch side expressed its approval of China’s initiatives to protect globalization and the openness of the world economy for mutual benefits. Minister S. Blok noted that the European Union, China and the United States should strengthen dialogue and mutual understanding, and not distance themselves from each other. The parties also agreed that it is necessary to combine the efforts of the two countries within the framework of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative to create a high-speed sea connection between the ports of China and the port of Rotterdam.

On August 27, 2020, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a visit to Norway, where he met with Norwegian Prime Minister E. Solberg and Foreign Minister Yi.Sorade. This trip of a high-ranking Chinese official was the first since 2005 and symbolizes the normalization of relations between the PRC and Norway. So, in 2010, relations between the two countries deteriorated due to the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
During the visit, Wang Yi noted that China is ready to develop a political dialogue with Norway, create conditions for cooperation in the field of medicine, maritime cooperation, and the signing of a bilateral free trade agreement. He also highlighted the role of Norway in international politics, offering to work together on documents on nuclear safety and the implementation of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in the UN Security Council (Norway is expected to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for 2 years in 2021).

The representatives of Norway highly appreciated the achievements of China in socio-economic development, including the eradication of poverty. The Norwegian side confirmed its intention to complete negotiations on a free trade agreement and its readiness to strengthen relations in the field of medicine and other areas. In general, Norwegian companies see China as a huge market for their seafood industry (according to estimates, the Chinese market accounts for 35% of global fish consumption).
On August 29, the head of Chinese diplomacy arrived in France, where he held meetings with President of the French Republic E. Macron, Chairman of the Constitutional Council of the country L. Fabius and Foreign Minister Zh.By Le Drian. During the talks, the parties discussed the promotion of a comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries, joint efforts in the field of multilateralism, countering the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, as well as the international situation.

The parties agreed that against the background of the growth of protectionism and economic nationalism in the world, Europe and China should jointly strengthen the regime of compliance with the basic norms governing international cooperation, develop an open world economic system. In addition, Wang Yi said that the United States hinders relations between China and the European Union and seeks to organize an anti-Chinese economic front. As a result, American policy has a negative impact on Chinese-European projects, primarily in terms of cooperation with Chinese companies in creating “5G”communication networks.

On September 1, Wang Yi visited Germany and held talks with the Federal President of Germany F. Steinmeier and Foreign Minister H.By Maas. The parties discussed the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, approaches to restoring the economies and Sino-German trade.
During the talks, the Chinese side drew the attention of the German partners to the fact that the PRC and the FRG, as “important independent forces”, should jointly perform a number of tasks. In particular, Wang Yi called on German partners to strengthen the economy and fight the epidemic, develop vaccines and medicines, and support WHO. The PRC has demonstrated its readiness to promote Sino-European relations to a higher level through deepening cooperation in the field of digitalization and climate change, and to complete negotiations on an investment agreement between the EU and the PRC within a year.

For its part, Berlin said that Germany attaches great importance to the relations between the two states and their further development is a significant goal of the German presidency in the European Union. The German side reacted positively to the Chinese proposals, stating that the European Union strives for equal relations with China on the basis of mutual respect. Representatives of the PRC and Germany agreed that the complication of Sino-European relations is unprofitable for either side, which has many prerequisites for the development of political and economic cooperation (
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The trip of the head of Chinese diplomacy to a number of key European states took place against the background of unprecedented negative relations between Washington and Beijing (…. This had an impact on the content of the negotiations and on the tasks of Wang Yi’s European tour.
According to estimates, the purpose of the visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister was to restore trust in Sino-European relations as a whole through the development of a bilateral dialogue with major players in European diplomacy (…. It is noteworthy that for some reason, the Chinese high-ranking delegation did not visit the capital of the European Union – Brussels for meetings with the European leadership.

The key message of China for European partners during the last tour of the Chinese Foreign Minister was the thesis that maintaining open trade will contribute to the recovery of the world economy in the post-viral period, while the “cold” war, imposed, according to the PRC, by the United States, will only worsen the economic situation of the entire European Union, which is experiencing a severe recession in the economy.

In addition, in recent years, Europeans have also consistently increased their strategic interest in China and Asia as a whole. And here Europe has its own tasks-first of all, to establish even closer profitable economic cooperation with the capacious Asian market.
And this is quite understandable: China ranks second among the EU’s trading partners, the Europeans are striving to strengthen their international economic competitiveness through access to promising markets in the East, while traditional transatlantic ties are going through a difficult period and the likelihood of a trade war between the EU and the United States is growing on the horizon.

Thus, apparently, due to cooperation with China and Asia, the Europeans get an additional “trump card” in negotiations with the United States, which is vigorously pushing its interests in trade.
The mutual attraction of the East and West of Eurasia is also based on the fact that today Beijing and Brussels are the capitals of world trade centers. The European Union and China account for over 43.7% of world trade. In addition, the EU is the world’s largest exporter (32.5% of world exports) and importer (31.6% of world imports). China ranks second after the EU in exports (12.9%) and third after the United States in imports (10.3%).

The trade turnover between the EU and China is second only to the volume of EU-US trade today. Thus, the economies of the EU and the People’s Republic of China are generally comparable and balance each other, and geographical remoteness removes any issues of a military-strategic nature.
China and European countries are interested in maintaining a constructive dialogue, despite the efforts of the United States to draw Europeans into the anti-Chinese bloc to jointly counter the PRC. It is beneficial for the Central Asian countries to maintain a geopolitical balance and a constructive dialogue between the EU, China and the United States, since all participants in the current contradictions are important partners, and, accordingly, it is impossible to make any unambiguous political choice.
In general, the past visits have shown that both the key EU states and the People’s Republic of China adhere to similar positions on many issues. Both the Europeans and the Chinese are interested in maintaining the achieved level of relations and want to develop trade and economic relations.

What does this mean for Kazakhstan and Central Asia?
First of all, our region receives certain guarantees that the “One Belt, One Road” initiative will continue to develop, which means that the Central Asian region will retain its strategic importance.
The desire of Europe and China to expand trade means the expansion of trade flows, including along the land Eurasian corridors, most of which pass through Kazakhstan. Thus, the transport sector will continue its development and increase profitability, promoting the development of industry, agriculture, tourism, etc.
Most likely, all these issues on the economic agenda will be touched upon at the talks within the framework of the announced visit of the head of Chinese diplomacy to Kazakhstan on September 12-13. After our country, Wang Yi is expected to visit other Central Asian countries as well (….
In general, the visit of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is the first visit to Kazakhstan by a foreign high-ranking official after the introduction of quarantine in our country and the subsequent closure of borders. The visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister shows that the epidemiological situation in Kazakhstan has significantly improved and our country has become safe for visits. The visit of the Chinese Foreign Minister will be a good example for other countries. This is likely to be a signal for the activation of political and business contacts of Kazakhstan with foreign partners.

The visit, apparently, will be a good opportunity to discuss the opening of borders and the resumption of direct flights between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the People’s Republic of China, which have been suspended since February this year. The opening of mutual trips between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the People’s Republic of China will be a good incentive for activating business contacts between our countries, increasing trade, continuing the implementation of joint industrial projects, etc. This is beneficial for the recovery of the Kazakh economy, which has suffered a lot during the epidemic.
This will also be good news for Kazakhstani students who study in China, but were forced to leave the country with the onset of the COVID epidemic (and there are almost 12 thousand people, about 700 of them have remained in China today, the rest have returned home to Kazakhstan).

One of the issues for discussion may probably be the supply to Kazakhstan of the Chinese vaccine against COVID, which is now being produced for general use in the PRC. Taking into account the fact that China has been keeping the coronavirus under control for a long time (the country has switched to normal life with some restrictions and is restoring economic activity, the number of cases has not exceeded 100 thousand people), then Chinese medicine as a whole can be trusted.

The visit to Kazakhstan will be held immediately after the meeting of the foreign ministers at the SCO level. China is noticeably distancing itself from this platform, taking into account the fact that India and other large countries with complex problems participate in it. In this regard, most likely, the Foreign Ministers of Kazakhstan and China will be able to discuss live issues of activating and developing the 5+1 regional dialogue (Central Asia plus China), which was launched in July this year in the video format.
The period of Wang Yi’s visit to Kazakhstan coincides with the anniversary of the transition of Kazakh-Chinese relations to the level of eternal, long-term comprehensive strategic partnership (–kitai-novii-uroven-vsestoronnego-strategicheskogo-partners…, it will be a good opportunity to discuss the results achieved and jointly plan bilateral cooperation for the next year. 

China Studies Centre,

Nur-Sultan, 2020

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