Xi Jinping is pressing the flesh in Europe this week on his first trip to the continent as Chinese president.
Ostensibly attending the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague today and Tuesday, Xi will also make stops in France, Germany, Belgium and the EU headquarters in Brussels during his 11-day trip.
As is Chinese diplomatic de rigueur, Xi's triumphs of statecraft in Europe have already been written. Reuters quotes sources that China is in talks to buy 150 Airbus passenger jets in a deal worth as much as US$20 billion. An announcement is likely this week. The country last week ended a revenge trade dispute with the EU over 'unfairly priced' wine. The European Commission backed down from import duties on Chinese solar panels last year, but China has persisted in an inquiry into European wine producers. In a deal announced Friday, the dispute was formally shelved, with Europe committing to technical assistance for the Chinese wine industry.
Also last week, it was revealed China's Ministry of Commerce won't be imposing anti-dumping tariffs on European polysilicon, a key component in the manufacture of solar panels. The move will no doubt smooth the German leg of Xi's Europe tour, though the Chinese president had previously caused a minor diplomatic ruckus in Germany by seeking an official March visit to the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. The request — a rather obvious ploy to wag a rhetorical finger at Japan's perceived historical denialism — was astutely rebuffed by German diplomats.
Some are expecting at least a little unpredictability from Xi in Europe. At a G7 meet on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit, Crimea is expected to dominate conversation. The BBC writes that 'Mr Xi is likely to face pressure from Western powers to be firmer with Russia over its actions in Ukraine.' Renmin University Professor Jin Canrong, quoted in the South China Morning Post, says that Crimea might add some 'unexpected twists' to Xi's Europe trip.
That seems a bit unlikely.
China's abstention on a UN Security Council draft resolution declaring the Crimea vote invalid was the country's equivalent of a stern telling off. China's official position on the issue is already well versed: Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hong Lei has said several times this past week that China 'urges all parties to keep calm, exercise restraint' and 'push for political settlement', and 'does not support sanctions.' An about-face from Xi at the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) is perhaps wishful thinking.
As for the NSS itself, China may score some diplomatic points. The summit, now in its third year, aims at reducing the risk of nuclear terrorism. Representatives from 53 countries will attend and are expected to issue a joint declaration to intensify international communication on nuclear security, reduce stockpiles of hazardous nuclear material and better secure such material (the NY Times reports that Japan will announce a deal turning over to the US more than 300kg of weapons-grade plutonium and 200kg of highly enriched uranium).
Both Pakistan and India will be at the summit. China is heavily involved in Pakistan's rapidly expanding nuclear power program, over which India has raised proliferation concerns. Beijing has flagrantly violated its obligations as a member of the Nuclear Suppliers' Group in sales of reactor technology to Pakistan. Yet the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Nuclear Materials Security Index recently named Pakistan the most improved nuclear-armed state of 2014. It's an achievement for which China could conceivably claim some credit. Pakistan outscored US nuclear ally India in the ranking.