Valdis Dombrovskis makes his first trip to China as EU economics commissioner, a four-day tour of Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou.
A swirling row over electric vehicles and Chinese anxiety over the EUâs de-risking plans are high on the agenda of a four-day tour of Beijing, Shanghai and Suzhou that will mark Dombrovskisâ first trip to China in three years as head of arguably the most powerful branch of the European Commission.
The trip to the Chinese capital is one of a series by EU officials. New digital boss Vera Jourova went last week, while energy commissioner Kadri Simson is set for a visit next week and top diplomat Josep Borrell next month. But few have Dombrovskisâ standing.
Trade is one of the few areas where Brussels sets policy for the EUâs 27 member states, and the soft-spoken Latvianâs term has been synonymous with a more pugnacious EU stance towards China, as geopolitical tensions have flared.
Dombrovskis is to sit down with He Lifeng, the Chinese vice-premier overseeing economic issues, on Monday for talks that, while the centrepiece of the trip, are usually highly structured scripted affairs. Dombrovskis is thought to believe that what happens in the margins is just as important.
Officials and diplomats who have worked in Beijing complain that their counterparts in Brussels have struggled to grasp how much China has changed during President Xi Jinpingâs decade at the helm. Others believe that the ailing Chinese economy gives Europe some rare leverage: can Beijing afford to allow strained ties to slip further?
Dombrovskis, then, is seeking a feel for the on-the-ground reality, following four pandemic years during which China cut itself off from the world while growing increasingly assertive on the global stage.
He will hold separate meetings with Commerce Minister Wang Wentao; Peopleâs Bank of China (PBOC) governor Pan Gongsheng; and Finance Minister Liu Kun, most of whom are new to their roles. Part of the challenge will be to determine where the power lies in President Xi Jinpingâs third cabinet â if anywhere other than the top of the tree.
EU unafraid of trade war with China amid row over electric vehicle probe
During these meetings, he is expected to deliver a steely message on Ukraine, discouraging Beijing from contravening or backfilling EU sanctions on Russia. Itâs hoped that as a former Latvian prime minister who is not outwardly hostile towards China, Dombrovskis and his directive will carry some weight in Beijing.
He will also lay out Brusselsâ trade grievances during speeches at the Bund Summit in Shanghai and Tsinghua University in Beijing.