Despite an interrupted schedule – he was supposed to go on to see Pres. Trump in the U.S. – and Washington’s efforts to preserve a united front, China’s No. 1 Xi Jinping scored a propaganda victory with the U.S.’ European allies on his trip in late March.
Xi included stops in Italy and Monaco as well as France where Pres. Macron managed to herd retiring German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker into a charm offensive for the Chinese leader.
All the while Washington diplomats were not so quietly warning the Europeans that China’s way of doing business were not theirs, much less the U.S.’ But Italy even went so far as to sign a protocol with the Chinese leader that hadn’t been on the docket. It was one that U.S. Sec. of State US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was indiscreet enough to publicly say Rome’s deal with China would not be in Italy’s best interests.
Whatever else was in the diplomatic mix, the Europeans were simply recognizing China’s new importance as the world’s No. 2 economy after the U.S. China.
Beijing is now the world’s largest manufacturing economy and exporter of goods. It is also the world’s fastest-growing consumer market and second-largest importer of goods.
According to the IMF, on a per capita income basis, China ranked 71st by GDP (nominal) and 78th by GDP (PPP) per capita in 2016.
But today China is the world’s largest manufacturing economy and exporter of goods. It is also the world’s fastest-growing consumer market and second largest importer of goods. As a net importer of services products, it is the largest trading nation in the world and has increasingly engaged in trade organizations and treaties. GDP growth was 6% in 2018.
But the Chinese were not just using their growing economic base and trading successes to emphasize its importance in a new world order it wants to achieve. It was learning the importance if not yet the techniques of “soft power”, developing a cosmic economic strategy of “the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), also known as the One Belt One Road (OBOR) (Chinese: 一带一路) or the Silk Road Economic Belt and references to a 21st-century of the China Silk Road which once linked China through Central Asia with the Middle East. Never mind that Chinese debt had already been used to take over Ceylon’s principal port and threatened other borrowers.
U.S. Tariffs against Chinese trade practices notwithstanding, the U.S. found itself in an awkward position at a moment it needs the cooperation of its Western trading partners, Japan and South Korea, to counter the Chinese economic offensive.