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An election, another one, and yet another one: Will Bulgaria finally have a functioning government?

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As of November, Bulgarian voters headed to the polls four times this year. Therefore, the news of a new election evokes little surprise — almost like in Israel before Netanyahu’s ousting. In both countries, the tension kept rising while expectations became more and more modest with each successive electoral round. However, the contests that took place on Sunday 14th were of the utmost importance for the country; and not only. In fact, Bulgaria is the EU’s and NATO’s south-eastern bulwark and hosts a tract of the South Stream gas duct. Moreover, Sofia is currently blockingthe next round of EU enlargement negotiations over North Macedonia’s disrespect of extant bilateral obligations. Finally, the Biden administration has manifested the US’s renewed interest in the Bulgaria’s internal politics and international orientations. Thus, the result of the vote has wider implication for the European and Euro-Atlantic political and geo-strategic stability.

Background — Two failed elections

April 2021: How the parties ‘hung’ the parliament

Last April, Bulgarians voted to renew the sitting parliament in the general elections. However, after a summer-long wave of protests against the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, established parties looked rather weak.

According to most experts, this new season of contestation has mobilised new voters, previously disenchanted about politics. As a result, the parties and the leaders who casted themselvesas supportive of the protests increased their votes. In particular, the neo-liberal coalition Democratic Bulgaria (DB) got the support of the well-educated and those residing in bigger cities. Meanwhile, the personal parties Stand Up! Bastards Out! (ISMV) and There is Such a People (ITN) fished across the board.

But they cannot persuadePM Boyko Borisov’s supporters that his removal from office is a precondition for societal improvement. Thus, despite the many corruption scandals involving Borisov’s cliques, all polls forecasted his party, GERB, would have won the election.

Or, to be more precise, GERB won the ballot count — but without a majority (see Figure 1). Moreover, the indignation did not spare the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which sometimes vents sympathies  for GERB despite its corruption. In addition, the elderlies are overrepresented amongst the BSP’s voters, the party suffered from Covid’s increasing morbidity during the spring. Hence, the main traditional opposition party lost votes in favour of the abovementioned ‘protest parties’, weakening the wider anti-Borisov front.

Against this background, there was absolutely no chance of seeing a cabinet get through a vote of confidence. In fact, GERB won 75 seats and the DPS, an ethnic-Turkish party closely associated with GERB, got other 30. Meanwhile, the so-called “parties of the protest” had only 93 representatives on the 121 needed to form a government. True, the BSP managed to hold on to 43 seats — enough to make the protest parties’ eventual confidence motion pass. But DB and ITN refused to engage in serious negotiations with the socialists, forcing the parliament to disband.

The President scheduled new election in July.

July 2021: How politicians (did not) made it through another hung parliament

Most Bulgarian parties and their leaders failed to understand the real meaning of the election results in July. In fact, for the first timesince its appearance in 2009, GERB failed to win the most votes. In part, this could be explained arguing that a large share of GERB’s constituency does not vote ideologically. On the contrary, researchers hypothesise that support for Borisov’s party stems chiefly from the networks of clienteleshe has established. Thus, it was relatively uncomplicated for the President-appointed caretaker government to disincentivise practices such as vote buying and controlled voting. Either way, subsequent sociological analyses and available data show that GERB’s voters demobilised more than other parties’ supporters in July.

Conversely, the so-called ‘parties of the protest’ were the main beneficiary of the disengagement of GERB’s voters. True, most of the ITN’s, DB’s and ISMV’s voters were not ideologically committed to their party of choice either. Nevertheless, the results showed that protest voting can be powerful enough of a force to uproot an already-destabilised party system. In fact, all three parties increased their share of the vote and number of seats (see Figure 2). In addition, ITN’s votes increased in absolute terms by 92,000 units despite an eight-percent reduction in turnout.

After having seen the results, Borisov’s adversaries, especially President Radev, imagined the parties could agree on a new cabinet. In fact, GERB and the DPS lost 13 seats. Meanwhile, the so-called “parties of the protest” had as many as 112 representatives and the BSP was left with 36. Eventually, strong of its 65 deputies, ITN came up with the offer for DB, ISMV and the BPS. Essentially, ITN would form a minority “cabinet of experts” following an agenda agreed amongst the four parties. In other words, ITN came up with a confidence-and-supply arrangement which would have denied its partners any post. However, the populist reason which drives ITN’s strategy led to a massive failure although there was a draft government programme. Namely, according to several rumours, DB requested to rediscuss some of the cabinet members’ nomination as part of the agreement. Predictably, ITN’s preconceived denial to negotiate on the names caused DB’s rebuttalof the entire confidence-and-supply mechanism. Obviously, the BSP and ISMV opportunistically abandoned ITN’s wretched locomotive before the egregious failure of its government in pectore.

The President scheduled new election in November.

Yet another parliamentary… and finally a cabinet?

Considering the previous two votes’ result, it is unsurprising that few analysts tried to call the last electoral round. Indeed, much of this unpredictability stemmed from the decision of two President-appointed caretaker ministers to form a new party. Actually, the names of former finance minister Kirill Petkov and former economy minister Asen Vasilev were little known until May. However, the former’s intense public activity in the revealing the corrupt practicesof Borisov’s administration made him very popular. Moreover, Petkov’s rhetoric emphasises, unlike that of most other Bulgarian political leaders, dialogue, trust and teamwork— especially with Vasilev. Lastly, Petkov and Vasilev made a wit choice in calling their party We Continue the Change (PP). In fact, the name underlines continuity with the caretaker government’s activity and suggests a connection with its appointer, President Radev. After all, the President remains the most popular Bulgarian politician and PP benefitted from his informal blessing (Figure 3).

Overall, the results are surprisingto say the least (Figure 4). Although the turnout fell again to slightly less than 40% of eligible voters, PP achieved a convincing lead over GERB. At the same time, the entire political panorama changed dramatically virtually overnight. After a months-long decline, ISMV failed to clear the four-percent threshold to enter the parliament and risks disappearing. Evidently, the BSP continued its decline, ranking fourth – even after the DPS – and losing 54 seats on its pre-2021 level. Interestingly, PP seems to have syphoned offso many votes from the protest party par excellence, ITN, to shrink it to 25 seats.  The same dynamic drove votes from PP to DB, whose leader admitted the two parties’ self-evident ideological affinity recently. Finally, a nationalist ‘protest’ formationmanged to elect 13 deputies, remedying nationalists’ failures in April and July: Văzrazhdane (‘National Revival’).

Looking at the mere numbers of seats in the parliament, one would reach a simple conclusion. And some already say that the Bulgarians will soon have to deal with a new cabinet, with Petkov as PM. However, the most refined analysts have noted that the parties may fail to form a government for the third time.

Conclusion — What to look for in the next weeks and months

The most fascinating aspects of Bulgaria’s current election cycle is not new to those who follow Israeli politics, for instance. In fact, as it happened in Tel Aviv after Netanyahu’s failure to form a government, many feel changes coming. However, in Sofia like in Tel Aviv, there are still many unknown quantities to deal with in politics’ general equation.

Obviously, the reference is most directly to Văzrazhdane — this absolute newcomer to parliamentary politics. First, the party has adopted rather ‘atypical’ stances on, amongst other topics, Bulgaria’s NATO and EU membership. Curiously, most of the party’s propaganda material is freely and easily accessible online through social networksand Văzrazhdane’s website. Besides the fact that the majority of its activists and candidates are open to have an online chat with anyone. Hence, it is reasonable to expect that at least part of Văzrazhdane’s 127,568 voters is well aware of its ideals. Nevertheless, it may not be able to coalesce with a strongly pro-EU, neo-liberal and verticalized party as PP without denaturing.  Second, the party’s modest success may be more sustainable in the medium to long term than that of PP. Differently from PP, ITN, ISMV and otherBulgarian leader-driven political projects, Văzrazhdane has been growing up for year. In effect, a few sociologists and analysts were already singling out the party’s positive trajectory in July. Thus, its ideas may turn into a long-lasting destabilising factor for Bulgaria’s usually dull foreign policy in the coming years.

Furthermore, one can argue at length on what these results say on the state of Bulgaria’s liberal democracy. Sure, neither PP nor GERB are a serious threat to democracy as a procedural rule involving elections. However, both parties pose an unmistakable menace to the country’s already fledging liberal institutions. In fact, both Borisov and, in his short tenure to nowadays, Petkovhave shown little appreciation of parliamentarism. Moreover, Petkov embraces a brand of neoliberalismwhich implies a few carrots(e.g., raising pensions) and much more stick. In fact, he has only criticised entrepreneurs whom others have already associated with Borisov and promised not to raise taxes. In addition, he has an open feud with the Constitutional Courtover his dual citizenship — which invalidated his ministerial appointment. Finally, Petkov and his associated have approached the pandemicas a common-sense matterdespite the ongoing compression of citizens’ freedoms.

Therefore, the future remains unpredictable. Especially assuming that a Petkov cabinet would have the support of both the EU and the President. In fact, left unconstrained by Brussels in the name of stabilitocracy and supported by Radev to finish off his archenemy, Borisov, Petkov and his associated may end up rewriting the rules of Bulgarian politics in an elitist way. After all, they have already done it by violating all constitutional customs on caretaker governments’ self-restraint. Why not to try again?

Fabio A. Telarico was born in Naples, Southern Italy. Since 2018 he has been publishing on websites and magazines about the culture, society and politics of South Eastern Europe and the former USSR in Italian, English, Bulgarian and French. As of 2021, he has edited two volumes and is the author of contributions in collective works. He combines his activity as author and researcher with that of regular participant to international conferences on Europe’s periphery, Russia and everything in between. For more information, visit the Author’s website (in English and Bulgarian).

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European Parliament Declares Russia as Sponsor of Terrorism: Implications and Future Developments

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European Union’s relations with Russia has taken a different complicated turn, this time declaring Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism. What are the significance and implications the European parliament, arguing military strikes on Ukrainian civilian targets such as energy infrastructure, hospitals, schools and shelters, to classify and finally vote in favour of a resolution calling Russia a state sponsor of terrorism? Why should the European parliament take this decisive legislative step at all giving this status to Russia?

The European parliament at a plenary meeting in Strasbourg on November 23 declared Russia as “a state sponsor of terrorism” around the world. The resolution passed by 494 votes, while 58 deputies voted against and 44 abstained. The document brings a number of accusations against Russia. The bloc has already imposed a series of unprecedented sanctions on Russia over its special military operation in Ukraine which began February 24. European lawmakers, in a largely symbolic move, now voted for this measure against Russia.

The Yermak-McFaul sanctions group, in a special project for independent newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, pointed to six main consequences of the potential U.S. designation of the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism:

1. Symbolic: recognition of Russia as one of the main global perpetrators of atrocities and terror, which the country carries out against civilian populations.

2. Diplomatic: reduction of formal ties and joint programs between the U.S. and Russia, along with increased diplomatic isolation of Russia.

3. Sanctions and restrictions on transactions: it will be illegal for American individuals and legal entities to participate in financial transactions with the Russian government, Russian state-owned banks and enterprises, and persons connected with the Russian government.

4. Secondary sanctions against entities that are connected, for example, by transactions with Russia and its institutions. This means that the U.S. and its allies can impose sanctions (usually financial or trade) on any country that continues to cooperate with the Russian Federation, prompting other countries to avoid such cooperation.

5. Blacklisting of the Russian Federation by The Financial Action Task Force (FATF):unlike the partial disconnection of Russian banks from SWIFT, this step would affect the banking system of the Russian Federation in its entirety, rather than in selective parts (this would mean the blocking of correspondent accounts of Russian banks around the world, including in China).

6. Enabling judicial, executive, and other actions against Russia directly by voiding Russia’s sovereign immunity, thereby allowing the real possibility of bringing Russia to justice in the courts of other countries. Normally, a court of one country cannot issue judgements against another country. However, a state sponsor of terrorism designation creates an exception to sovereign immunity in U.S. courts.

There have been several media reports. As the BBC has noted, there have been other attempts to designate Russia as a “terrorist” state. In the spring of 2018, after an assassination attempt by the Russian special services on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Robert Menendez, called for this step against Moscow. In December 2019, the Committee supported a bill introduced by Republican Senator Cory Gardner to recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism.

Despite these calls, Russia has still never been included on this list. However, the savage and brutal full-scale war that the Kremlin is waging against Ukraine has repeatedly strengthened both Kyiv’s calls for this step and the grounds for it.

On May 12, 2022, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Republican Joe Wilson and Democrat Ted Lieu introduced a bipartisan resolution proposing to recognize the Russian Federation as a state sponsor of terrorism.

“By designating Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism, the United States would be able to ban dual-use exports to Russia and take economic action against other countries that do business with Russia,” argued Rep. Lieu in a joint statement with his Republican colleague.

“What’s more, the U.S. could further inflict pain on Russia by freezing the country’s assets in the U.S., like real estate. We know that Russia provides sanctuary to a U.S.-designated terrorist group and has employed mercenaries with histories of human rights violations. A state sponsor of terrorism designation is a common-sense way to further aid Ukraine.”

They also recalled that in addition to war crimes in Ukraine and “the bloodbath that has already resulted in the death of unknown thousands of Ukrainian civilians and soldiers.”

“However, Russia’s involvement in international terrorism is more expansive and has been well documented for years, whether through direct attacks or orchestrated through private military networks and hired thugs. Their reign of terror must be stopped,” they urged.

In a recent article, the news magazine Foreign Policy analyzed why the hypothetical decision to recognize Russia as a sponsor of terrorism has drawn skepticism.

“U.S. officials and experts familiar with the matter describe a debate within the National Security Council and State Department on the merits of the move, with some officials arguing that a [state sponsor of terrorism] designation would send a powerful signal of support to Kyiv and others arguing that it wouldn’t have much of a practical impact, given that Russia already faces one of the strictest sanctions regimes in the world,” the publication reports.

On the other hand, other experts argue that the recognition of Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism would have a significant reputational effect. The move would increase pressure on the Kremlin and make virtually any relationship with Russia impossible for U.S. citizens, writes Politico. According to Atlantic Council sanctions expert Edward Fishman, “Labeling Russia as a state sponsor of terrorism would be significant because it’s a blanket measure… [It] brings risk to any relation-ship with Russia.”

He also added that a congressional mandate to grant the Russian Federation such a status would make any secondary sanctions against Russia “far more effective.”

In addition above, the Swiss daily Neue Zuercher Zeitung’s columnist wrote that “Emotionally, this decision can be understood, but it entails no legal consequences. Moreover, it is politically meaningless,” columnist Daniel Steinvorth believes. In his opinion, the resolution adopted “looks powerful”, but in reality, it is such “only verbally.”

The author draws attention to the fact that the decision of the parliament “is not binding” for either the European Commission or the countries of the European Union. The European deputies’ demand for reducing official contacts with Russia to an “absolute minimum” has been “met long ago,” taking into account the expulsion of Russian diplomats from the EU countries after the start of a special military operation in Ukraine, the columnist noted.

Steinvorth recalls that the United States, unlike the EU, does not consider Russia a sponsor of terrorism, because it is well aware that “at some point the West will inevitably have to sit down again at the negotiating table with Russia,” while “terrorists are not to be negotiated with.” Strasbourg “prefers not want to wait for this moment and hurries to attach labels instead,” the observer laments.

On the other hand the widely circulated daily Russian newspapers have, during the week, attempted to offer some analysis behind the European parliament’s move to brand Russia a ‘state sponsor of terrorism’ for its actions in Ukraine and interviewed for views from so many political experts. For example Izvestia

“This decision cannot have any legal consequences, because the European Parliament does not have any appropriate prerogatives. However, there are political implications, and the resolution may propel this issue legally,” Associate Professor of the Department of Integration Processes at MGIMO Alexander Tevdoy-Burmuli told Izvestia. The expert said the EU could later make decisions to facilitate the recognition of a third country as “a sponsor of terrorism”.

Director of the Center for European Information, Associate Professor at MGIMO Nikolay Topornin doubts the EU will soon be able to tweak its legislation for that. “This resolution would rather attract the attention of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and other regions,” he told Izvestia. And Tevdoy-Burmuli did not rule out that the EP could use this resolution to try and deprive Russia of its say at the United Nations Security Council, even though the procedure of stripping a permanent member of its right to veto is not envisaged in the organization’s documents.

What’s more, the resolution came as no surprise for Moscow. According to First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Foreign Affairs Vladimir Dzhabarov, the European parliament is no longer playing a decisive role, and all it has been doing of late is inciting enmity between nations. The senator suggested Russia, in its turn, should approve a document recognizing all NATO countries as “sponsors of terrorism” for the massacre of civilians in Yugoslavia, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The European parliament at a plenary meeting in Strasbourg on November 23 declared Russia as “a state sponsor of terrorism” around the world. The resolution passed by 494 votes, while 58 deputies voted against and 44 abstained. The document brings a number of accusations against Russia. The European parliament further asked the Council of the European Union to broaden the list of sanctioned persons and called on “all EU candidate countries and potential candidates to align with the EU’s sanctions policy.”

The European parliament “calls on the Commission to come forward with a legislative proposal to amend the current EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime […] by extending its scope to include acts of corruption, to swiftly adopt targeted sanctions against individuals responsible for high-level corruption in Russia and Belarus, as well as their EU-based enablers and beneficiaries,” the resolution says.

It “asks the Commission and the Member States to consider possible measures against countries that try to help Russia circumvent the sanctions imposed; urges the Commission to ensure that national penalties for breaching EU sanctions are effective, proportionate and dissuasive.”

“European Parliament members have given the member states an idea of developing a European Union’s legal framework ‘for the designation of states as sponsors of terrorism and states which use means of terrorism’ and called on European capitals to put Russia on this blacklist so that no one has any doubt which state they mean. The absurdity of this idea is evident to all but European Parliament members who supported it,” the mission wrote on its Telegram channel.

According to the mission, “the task set by the European Parliament is simple – to whip up confrontation with Russia by all possible means.” It is being done at the expense of the wellbeing of people who are faced with the adverse impacts of the anti-Russian sanctions, it added. Brussels has is a framework definition of terrorism and a list of terrorist organizations, and the resolution will not have any judicial consequences for Russia. Although resolutions are not legally bunding and are recommendatory, they are widely used in the EU media and political environment to promote and disseminate specific political positions.

In addition, European deputies recommend “an immediate and full embargo on EU imports of Russian fossil fuels and uranium, and for the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines to be completely abandoned.”

Earlier, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly published a resolution, which recommends that Russia be designated “a terrorist regime.” A similar resolution was adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in October. The European Parliament resolution adopted is an advisory recommendation for consideration by the European Commission and the Council of the European Union.

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Italy-Gulf Bilateral Ties: More Room for Growth

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Due to historical and geographic factors, Italy has rarely figured as a protagonist in the dynamics of the Gulf region and it has mainly focused its foreign policy activism on its immediate neighborhood: the Mediterranean and North Africa.

However, Rome has signaled an interest in playing a more visible, active role in the GCC space and Italy-Gulf bilateral ties have registered exponential growth during the past decades. Three main areas of cooperation – security, economy, and energy – have significantly contributed to building a friendly diplomatic environment.

Security Cooperation

Italy came to play a more significant role in the Gulf area in the early 1990s by contributing to the US-led Operation Desert Storm against the backdrop of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait.

Although Italian troops were rarely dispatched to the Arabian Peninsula since then, they visibly contributed to promoting security and stability in the GCC’s immediate neighborhood. Italy took an active role in the US-led Global War on Terrorism after 9/11 by participating in military missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Italian troops rarely engaged in combat operations when deployed to the Middle East. In most cases, Italy’s armed forces were tasked with non-combat duties. As a peacekeeper, an interposition force separating warring parties in combat zones, and head of training programs for local security forces, Italy’s army has consolidated a decades-long experience in deconfliction.

Italy has always been characterized by a strong maritime vocation and a long naval history. Still today, Italy markedly depends on sea transport lanes for its trade and energy supplies. Therefore, Italy is deeply committed to freedom of navigation and safe transit across chokepoints.

Through its naval assets, Italy is devoted to improving the security and stability of shipping lanes, providing mariners with a safe maritime environment, and intervening and protecting them from the malign activities of state- and non-state actors.

Italy has emerged as an active contributor to several maritime security platforms implemented in the waters off the Arabian Peninsula. From the US-backed Combined Maritime Forces to the counter-piracy EU NAVFOR Operation Atalanta and the French-led European Maritime Awareness in the Strait of Hormuz mission, Italy has regularly dispatched its naval assets to protect shipping lanes in Middle East waters.

More recently, Italy’s armed forces will contribute to ensuring the defense and security of Qatar’s 2022 FIFA World Cup. The Italian contingent will provide full-spectrum support to the Qatari security forces to ensure the safe and regular running of the sporting event, which is expected to gather thousands of football fans.

Economic Cooperation

As the second EU manufacturing powerhouse, Italy eyes the GCC market as a promising destination to export its commodities and services. Italy-GCC trade exchanges are still adjusting to the shocks brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, but data for the 2022’s first-semester signal a promising positive trend that, in most cases, markedly outweighs the same period in 2021.

While single cases display slightly different figures, precision mechanical products, chemical products, food products, pharmaceutical and medical products represent the bulk of Italian export to the Gulf region. Among the GCC member states, the UAE stands out as the biggest recipient of Italian export, with a value of roughly 3.8 billion euros between January and August 2022.

Some GCC countries have positioned themselves at the forefront of the freight and passenger transport industry. Many Gulf-based companies have consolidated sound expertise in offering logistics services as well as storage and distribution solutions.

Due to their capacity to develop more competitive and efficient logistics solutions that suit the increasingly demanding needs of constantly adjusting global markets, Gulf-based logistics companies have positioned themselves as trendsetters in the transport industry. Thanks to its unique geography, the Arabian Peninsula is set to become a critical transmission knot in global trade supplies and a vital logistics connector between East and West.

With a close interest in gaining a solid connection to global trade lanes to export its high-value-added commodities while securing stable access to supply chains to import energy products and raw materials to process at home, Italy eyes with growing attention the home-grown logistics solutions offered by the Gulf countries.

Energy Cooperation

With a solid industrial fabric and no direct access to domestic energy sources, Italy has traditionally satisfied a high-quantity demand for electric energy for industrial and residential use by heavily importing energy products. However, the shortcomings of energy supply chains that emerged during the Covid-19 pandemic, the growing concerns regarding the long-term implications of climate change, and the severe impacts of the Russia-Ukraine war on the global energy markets have driven Italy to double down its efforts in further diversifying the country’s energy mix and pivoting it towards green products.

While the GCC states still see the export of hydrocarbon products playing a prominent role in their economies, they all have set for themselves ambitious decarbonization targets and are investing massive financial resources in the development of state-of-the-art solutions to support the green transition. With the GCC countries eyeing growing attention to creative initiatives to pivot their economies away from an oil revenue-based model, Italy-Gulf ties might reach new heights through cooperation in renewable energies-driven joint initiatives. 

Future outlooks

With a new parliament taking office and a government swearing-in last October, Italy has recently entered a new phase of its political lifecycle. Still, Italy’s positioning in the international arena is unlikely to experience radical changes.

By nominating some veterans of Italian politics at the top of critical ministries, such as the then-President of the European Parliament Antonio Tajani at Foreign Affairs and Guido Crosetto at the Defense, the government headed by PM Giorgia Meloni signals to international observers that Italy’s geopolitical and strategic posture will remain solidly anchored in the Atlantist and European camps.

PM Meloni’s pragmatic understanding of international affairs calls for the new Italian government to maintain a reassuring foreign policy posture. The Mediterranean and North Africa are bound to remain the priority areas where Italy will spend most of its diplomatic energies. Still, the need to cultivate more profound and meaningful ties with the Gulf countries is gradually becoming more relevant in Italy’s foreign policy compass.

Rome’s latest moves in the Gulf tell a story of growing resolve by Italy to contribute to upholding a secure maritime environment. The dispatching of troops and warships is a concrete display of Italy’s increasing interest and closer attention to the Gulf and its geopolitical undercurrents.

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Olaf Scholz was in Beijing, is it Germany’s big bet on China or the other way around?

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photo:Yao Dawei / Xinhua

The visit of German chancellor Olaf Scholz to China this month generated mixed reactions, generally unsupportive, across European capitals as also in Washington. Within the EU, for example, the French leader Macron, amid a growing schism with Germany, is “irritated” with Scholz’s solo visit to Beijing. Several European countries have criticized Scholz for “unilateral diplomacy” and for the visit’s “naively” wrong timing. In China, the government and official media were delighted and over-excited with the German chancellor’s less than 24-hour “whirlwind visit,” but Chinese skeptics are calling for caution and pragmatism. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visited Beijing this month accompanied by the leaders of several top German businesses in China, sending a clear message to all those in Germany, in the EU capitals, and in Washington who strongly criticized the visit: business with the world’s largest market must continue and “decoupling” with China is neither good for Germany nor beneficial for Europe. The less-than-day-long visit by the chancellor to the Chinese capital – with no plan to visit the Great Wall – typically fitted into the caricature of how the Germans are perceived, i.e. “all work, no pleasure.”  Realizing the importance of the business-like “flash visit,” the Chinese too cleared all hurdles in the way of the Scholz entourage’s one-day business outing to Beijing and lifted the Covid-19 standard 7-day mandatory hotel quarantine requirement for all foreign travelers.    

Interestingly, while chancellor Scholz was shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Golden Hall of the Great Hall of the People, the US secretary of state Anthony J. Blinken was telling reporters at the end of the 2-day G7 foreign ministers meeting in the western German town of Münster: “We [G7] are clear-eyed about need to align on China.” Perhaps unable to interpret what “clear eye” means in Chinese, a section of the media in China reported Blinken as saying the “United States strongly agrees” with Scholz’s stance on his trip to Beijing. The Chinese article, entitled “Scholz goes to China, Blinken Responds,” further stressed Blinken’s remark that “in the past two years, the G7 consensus, including Germany, on the China issue has become increasingly strong and clear.”

It is indeed true Blinken did make the remark as reported in the Chinese article mentioned above. However, far from endorsing chancellor Scholz’s China visit, what the secretary of state clearly said in response to a question about how he [Blinken] viewed the German chancellor’s sudden visit was this: “Chancellor Scholz laid out in very clear terms his objectives for his visit to Beijing in an op-ed that was published this week.  And we strongly agree with what he shared in that op-ed. That includes, by the way, encouraging President Xi to press President Putin on never using a nuclear weapon of any kind.” (Emphasis added) Obviously, the Chinese article did not mention Scholz’s intent to ask President Xi to press his Russian counterpart to never use a nuclear weapon. Neither did the article clarify that Blinken only spoke about endorsing the op-ed written by Scholz.      

Needless to say, the Chinese article generated scores of reader’s comments criticizing Blinken’s view of Scholz’s visit as hypocritical. One reader scornfully ridiculed the secretary of state and asked: “If Blinken’s view is also the position of the US government, why is the US then carrying on with a trade war against China? Why is the Biden administration targeting Huawei? Why did the US declare a chip and semiconductor embargo against China?” Another Chinese reader wrote: “Germany is a colony of America.” A Chinese digital news and current affairs platform, known for its politically “nationalist” views, in a more pragmatic yet critical tone credited the German business community for the “uneasy,” less than 24-hour, “flash visit” by the German chancellor. A signed commentary on its website observed: “From a certain viewpoint, it is more a visit pushed by the German businesses in China, and not that chancellor Scholz leading a German business delegation to visit China.”     

Curiously, some Chinese experts have questioned Scholz’s sincerity and warned Beijing to be more cautious than illusory. “Until yesterday, [Scholz] was spitting venom and was campaigning for the world to ‘decouple’ from China and calling for a ‘de-sinicized’ world,” a commentary said the day after the visitor left. Such a view was more in tandem with several readers’ comments in response to the earlier article mentioned above. Admitting Scholz traveled to Beijing under a lot of stress and anxiety, the commentary nevertheless blamed none other than Scholz himself for the opposition to his visit. “The mounting pressure and rising anxiety come from the accusations against him within Germany and the EU. And, of course, the anger is emanating from the United States. Sadly, it is he and his government that aimed at destroying Merkel’s Sino-German legacy,” it said.

Disagreeing with opinions in China such as those interpreting Scholz’s visit will not only promote China-Germany relations to increase trust, clear doubts, and deepen cooperation, but also help China-Europe relations as the ballast stone (emphasis given), a counterview such as articles cited in the paragraph above says, it is naïve to expect the German leader to show an “independent and pragmatic understanding of China.” Many scholars in China have noted, that for some time now factors such as the high tide of de-globalization, with no end in sight to the Ukraine crisis, as well as “coercive diplomacy” being pushed by the US on the European allies to contain China, etc., have been gaining traction in the European political arena.  

At another level, it is significant to note most official media in China have referred to Scholz’s op-ed (cited above) in order to justify the expectations of Beijing, of the CPC, and above all of President Xi that the German chancellor “special” visit will not only promote Sino-German relations to a new height but will also be worthy of reference for other European countries. However, dismissing a Global Times editorial that describes Scholz’s visit as “special” and which claims with Scholz as the leader of Germany, Europe will eventually return to being China’s comprehensive strategic partner, a Chinese skeptic wrote: “The conclusion that Scholz’s visit is seeking strategic autonomy from the United States and that Germany’s China policy will undergo a dramatic U-turn is premature, to say the least.”         

Finally, several Chinese commentaries have pointed out that the current US strategy of prolonging the ongoing war in Europe is aimed at de-industrializing Europe, creating political turmoil in Europe, and that Europe’s hard times may have just begun. Some Chinese analysts also wondered if it is worth giving a benefit of the doubt to the political clout Scholz carried on his China visit. Scholz did not display any sign that he was in a position to discuss German-China friendship, or rather China-Europe friendship, a Chinese commentator observed. “Yet he promises to be the only German leader at the moment with whom China can make a deal. It would be really worth looking forward to waiting and watching what kind of change Scholz can bring about in German-China or Europe-China ties,” the commentator noted in a witty remark. 

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South Asia4 hours ago

The Taliban Finally Granted Permission to the Former President Karzai to leave Afghanistan

Based on the information, the former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, was permitted to leave the country. At a time,...

South Asia9 hours ago

The Charisma and Chaos of Imran Khan

The chances of Imran Khan winning the elections of 2018 were quite murky. Despite his unparalleled fan base and populist...

Southeast Asia11 hours ago

Can ‘border guard’ diplomacy strengthen ties between Myanmar-Bangladesh?

The 8th Border Conference between Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) has started. The conference, which...

Economy13 hours ago

The Upcoming Recession and its Ramifications on the World Economies

The recent decision of the new head of Twitter, Elon Musk, to sack approximately 50 percent of the workforce is only indicative...

South Asia23 hours ago

Chattisgarh Elections 2023: Future of United Progressive Alliance and BJP

Chattisgarh, the 9th largest state of India by area and 17th most populous state with population of 30 Million will...

Eastern Europe1 day ago

Azerbaijan is to open an embassy in Israel: timely or little late?

“Time to open that bottle!” tweeted with joy George Deek, Israel`s Ambassador in Azerbaijan on November 18, by posting a...

biden-foreign-policy biden-foreign-policy
Americas1 day ago

Ron Paul: Biden Administration accept that it has a “Zelensky problem”

“Last week the world stood on the very edge of a nuclear war, as Ukraine’s US-funded president, Vladimir Zelensky, urged...

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