China stresses importance of ties to rest of world in wake of US balloon dispute

China stresses importance of ties to rest of world in wake of US balloon dispute

“Crimes against humanity.” It is with these three words that the US Vice President Kamala Harris used her keynote speech at the Munich Security Conference to further escalate the rhetoric against Russia. Ms Harris said Russia had committed grave crimes, a matter she called an “undisputed fact”, stressing the continued “trans-Atlantic” commitment to help Ukraine.

The 59th Munich Security Conference has largely been dominated by the war as it approaches its first anniversary. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the main hall on the first day calling for further support, while the leaders of Germany, Chancellor Olaf Sholz, and France, President Emmanuel Macron, were among others who expressed their continued commitment to the country. The mood in Munich amongst Ukrainian and Western representatives on Russia is clear: no diplomacy or compromise.

Yet, the mood is different towards China. While there appears to be continued US escalation, particularly after the shooting down of a reported Chinese surveillance balloon, the European position appears more nuanced. Ms Harris was preceded on stage by Wang Yi, director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC Central Committee and China’s top diplomat, who described the US shooting down of the “balloon” as “hysterical”, while stressing the importance of ties with Europe.

China came with a message of collaboration, stressing that not only is the world in need of North-South co-operation, but also South-South co-operation. In addition to diplomatic representation, a number of leading Chinese analysts were in attendance. Having been cut off attendance due to Covid-19, they came with a clear message that “China was opening up” and wanted to work with the world, but particularly Europe. That was also the message Mr Wang also conveyed in Paris, where he was ahead of coming to Munich.

China is looking to solidify its relations with Europe at a time of heightened tension with Washington. The White House read out of Ms Harris’s meeting with Mr Macron and Mr Sholz said that she “discussed challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China, including the importance of upholding the rules-based order, and agreed to remain closely aligned”. As the Munich conference was taking place, the Pentagon’s top China official, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Chase arrived in Taiwan, according to Reuters.

China was present in a number of sessions in Munich, including in a discussion on microchips, but also in sessions entitled “#WarTok- (Social) media as a game-changer in warfare”, in a clear play on Chinese-owned Tiktok and another, “Balloons, quantum &co.. what else do we not know about Chinese technology?”.

While Ukraine and China dominated, there were two main sessions on Saturday related to the Middle East. The first was in a packed townhall on the future of the protest movement – and regime – in Iran. Reza Pahlavi, the oldest son of the former Iranian Shah, actress Nazanin Bonaidi (who is also an Ambassador for Amnesty International) and Iranian activist Masih Alinajad were among the speakers urging Western leaders to isolate the Iranian government. No Iranian official was invited and the message from Munich appears to be that talks with the Iranian government for the EU and the US are stalled without a horizon to restart.

The other key session was that of the Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Al-Sudani who declared that “there is no longer ISIS presence in Iraq… only troublesome individuals”. He spoke of his government’s priorities, while denying the influence of Iran on the country, calling questions about it part of a campaign “to confuse matters”.

Mr Al-Sudani was a sought after man this weekend, with back-to-back meetings, including with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen.

The Munich Security Conference – in pictures:

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