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A desperate Pekingese seeks love wherever he can find it

A desperate Pekingese seeks love wherever he can find it
A desperate Pekingese seeks love wherever he can find it


Beijing must feel desperate. He may see that economic things are not going well, whether at the national level, or in terms of trade or investment flows. It also highlights how the once-great enthusiasm for Chinese affairs has ebbed among Americans, Europeans and Japanese. Washington has demonstrated increasing hostility toward Chinese trade as well as Brussels and Tokyo, although to a less extreme extent. In response, Chinese leaders have in recent months moved to court economic and political leaders from all parts of the developed world. President Xi Jinping has twice celebrated American business leaders and told them how much China values ​​them. He did the same thing in Europe. Most recently, he sent Premier Li Qiang to Seoul, South Korea, to deliver the same message and more to the leaders of that country and Japan. But while Beijing did not experience outright rejection, it felt little warmth.

The reasons for Beijing's efforts are clear enough. Nationally, a severe and persistent real estate crisis has paralyzed home purchasing and construction activity. Due to the loss of wealth from the housing crisis, and for other reasons as well, Chinese consumers remain reluctant to spend, while President Xi's past hostility toward private businesses has blocked their investments, their expansion as well as their hiring. Exports have lagged due to the varying degrees of hostility towards Chinese trade shown by governments in Washington, Brussels and Tokyo and also because companies in these regions are actively diversifying their overseas operations and sourcing outside China.

This lack of domestic and foreign economic support has led to what can only be described as a recent charm offensive from Beijing. The goal is to help revive the economy by regaining, at least in part, the old foreign enthusiasm for China, an enthusiasm that once helped propel China's rapid development. President Xi met with American business leaders at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APAC) summit in San Francisco last November, where he reassured them that they were welcome in China and They would find a fertile commercial environment there. Earlier this year, he invited even more American business leaders to Beijing to hear the same message. Shortly after this spectacle, Xi traveled to Europe to tell Europeans the same thing. Americans and Europeans gave him a positive, polite, and friendly reception, but none of these efforts elicited a substantial response. Neither investment flows nor trade have increased significantly.

More recently, Beijing has made much the same pitch to South Korea and Japan. Premier Li Qiang met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Seoul. At these meetings, he promoted trade between the three economies and invited investment into China. It was the first such meeting since 2019. In many ways, Li made the same promises to the South Koreans and Japanese that Xi made to the Americans and Europeans, but he went further. He tried to revive the idea of ​​a three-way free trade agreement, first mooted in 2012, but largely blocked since. By emphasizing the three nations' shared Asian heritage, Li also appeared to be attempting to separate one or both countries from their close economic and diplomatic relations with the United States.

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Everyone was very polite in Seoul, as were the Americans and Europeans, but it is not clear that Li achieved anything. There was of course the usual rhetoric about cooperation on trade and clean energy, but nothing concrete came out of the meetings, not even a plan, let alone a commitment. Although Li insisted on separating economics, investment and trade from security and diplomacy, security issues nevertheless marred the meetings.

Yoon Suk Yeol and Fumio Kishida have both requested China's help in restricting North Korea's missile tests and other hostile acts. Li never addressed these concerns, except that at one point he warned South Korea against politicizing trade (as if Beijing would never do such a thing). Kishida expressed concerns over recent Chinese military exercises around Taiwan and reminded Li how extremely important it was to Japan and the international community. community had no activity across the Taiwan Strait. He may have reminded Li that Japan was committed to the defense of Taiwan even more directly than the United States. It became painfully obvious that the kinds of progress Li sought on trade and investment, much less a three-way free trade agreement, could not come about without some resolution of security concerns.

There is no doubt that such openings would have been more productive if Beijing had been less authoritarian on trade in the past, less demanding of concessions and less willing to use trade to punish its partners, as when China cut off its exports of essential materials during the pandemic or its insistence that foreign companies operating in China share proprietary technologies and trade secrets with a Chinese partner or when Beijing, to punish Japan following a diplomatic dispute, discontinued its sales of rare earth elements. Today, Beijing is paying the price for such behavior and is failing to obtain the commitment it desires.




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