04/02/2014, 00.00
CHINA - EUROPEAN UNION
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Xi Jinping returns home full of deals and silence

by Bernardo Cervellera
The Chinese president signed agreements worth tens of billions of Euros in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. He also stayed clear of any press conference. At the College of Europe in Bruges, he presented his dream of a new trillion-dollar Silk Road. Yet, he also made it clear that at home, the monopoly of power stays with the Party, squashing any dream for political reform in China. On the Internet, netizens disagree with him.

Rome (AsiaNews) - On his arrival in Beijing this morning after a long trip to Europe, Chinese President Xi Jinping carried a suitcase full of economic deals and things left unsaid.

Between 22 March and 1 April, he attended the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague, and visited four nations: the Netherlands, France, Germany and Belgium.

During his stay, he met UNESCO officials in Paris and European Union leaders in Brussels.

In every country he visited, he signed economic deals and promised more open markets.

In the Netherlands, he signed a deal on food safety for a million Euros.

In France, the deals were worth €18 billion (US$ 25 billion) in aircraft, auto, nuclear power, etc.

In Germany, his visit marks the rise of Frankfurt as a major centre for Renminbi clearing with the establishment of a 350 billion-yuan (US billion) and 45 billion-euro (US$ 62 billion) bilateral swap line between the PBOC and the ECB in October.

In Belgium, in addition to a visit to a zoo to open a habitat for a pair of giant pandas on loan from Beijing, Xi spoke the day after the Antwerp World Diamond Centre and the Shanghai Diamond Exchange signed a cooperation agreement to boost trade in gems between Belgium and China.

Regrettably, he did not meet any journalist. Even in Brussels, at EU headquarters, where he came to ease trade tensions with Europe, Xi Jinping declined the offer by EU leaders to take part in a press conference.

Tight security during his visits were strategically planned so as to minimise the risk of protests by and for Uighurs, Tibetans, and other activists.

Reporters Without Borders did nevertheless stage a demonstration, driving lorries at dawn before the streets were blocked off to raise awareness about China's crackdown on media and limits on freedom of expression.

Hence, except for a few words about pandas, French cuisine and the clothes of China's first lady, Ms Peng Liyuan, President Xi was all business and trade.

The only place Xi Jinping said anything worth noting was at the College of Europe, a postgraduate institute in Bruges (Belgium) that trains European leaders and diplomats.

After the College opened the first China Library in Europe on Friday, he delivered a speech centred on economic issues.

Playing on the meaning of Bruges (old Flemish for 'bridges'), a city also known as the 'Venice of the North'), Xi said he had come to Europe to build bridges of friendship and cooperation across the Eurasian continent - what he called the "four bridges for peace, growth, reform and the progress of civilisation".

He went on to say that his broader goal is to rebuild a new Silk Road to integrate Asia and Europe, so that China and the European Union can operate as "twin engines for global economic growth," resulting in a trillion dollar annual bilateral trade with the EU by 2020.

After reiterating his support for open markets, he focused on his country's special character. The Chinese people, he explained, "had come to understand this from a simple fact," namely "that the tasty orange, grown in southern China, would turn sour once it is grown in the north".

Hence, his country cannot copy the political system or development model of other countries.

Still, Xi insisted that China would not stop "reform and opening-up" even though the "problems crying to be resolved are all difficult ones". Indeed, the country's development would continue bringing new development opportunities to the world.

Stressing that China would follow a development model that fits its reality, Xi said that the path that led to China's "success" is that of "socialism with Chinese characteristics".

Before this, the Chinese people had "experimented with constitutional monarchy, imperial restoration, parliamentarism, multi-party system and presidential government, yet nothing really worked".

In his low-profile yet pride-filled speech "with Chinese characteristics," he tried to dazzle European nations with the lure of huge profits, convincing them to continue investing in China, whilst allowing Chinese goods into the EU at little or no tariffs.

Europe, too, wants China to reduce its red tape, which are affecting European exports, but heard nothing on the issue. A deal is in the works, but nothing concrete has yet materialised.

In his speech, Xi also addressed his fellow Chinese. Since he came to power as general secretary of the Party and then as president, many within the regime have been waiting for more political reforms to curb rampant corruption, lessen oppression of the population and open up the media, as well as fight pollution and unfettered economic development. However, other factions within the Party are against any reform fearing that the People's Republic might end up like the Soviet Union, collapsing politically, as well as economically.

From what he said in Bruges, it is clear that Xi's much heralded reforms will apply only to the economic field and that they will never affect the power of the one-party state since, as he put it, China has already experimented with multi-party system.

For one his advisers, Shi Zhihong, a former deputy director of the Central Policy Research Office, any moves to curb the party's authority might create instability and disorder.

Things on the ground suggest otherwise. It is the one party state's oppression and violence, its unfettered political and economic power that cause instability and tensions.

Just for the period of 2006-2010, the official figure for "mass incidents", as the party calls them, topped 180,000.

And there is more to it. Socialism with Chinese characteristics was imposed on hundreds of millions of people - it was never chosen.

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