When Jiang Zemin (
Since President Hu Jintao (
French President Jacques Chirac's popularity ratings plunged to below 40 percent after French voters rejected the EU's proposed constitution. Afterwards, a series of labor strikes and domestic riots orchestrated by French Muslims, as well as the issue of rising unemployment, diverted France's attention from Iraq's problems.
The Russian government appears to have softened its foreign policy stance. It is plagued by economic problems, concerned about the conflict in Chechnya and still dealing with the pro-Western Ukrainian government. The Russian government also ordered the construction of an oil pipeline from its huge Siberian oil fields to the Pacific Ocean opposite Japan, rather than into China -- a decision that has caused a rift between Moscow and Beijing.
The biggest change in Europe occurred in Germany last year, when former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder stepped down after his party suffered a major defeat in parliamentary elections. Afterwards, right-wing Christian Democratic Union chairwoman Angela Merkel defeated other challengers for the chancellorship. Last week, Merkel went to the US and had a successful meeting with President George W. Bush.
Dubbed "Germany's Margaret Thatcher," Merkel pointed out during her trip to the US that "We are opening up a new chapter in US-German relations." Welt am Sonntag, a German newspaper, recently wrote in an editorial that "The departure of Schroeder will help German diplomacy move closer to the US, Poland and the UK at the expense of relations with France."
The likely strengthening of US-German relations under Merkel is going to have a great impact on the world, and will also dash Beijing's plan to have the EU lift its arms embargo against China. Both France and Germany had long been strong proponents of lifting the ban, but Merkel expressed her reluctance to carry out such a measure even before she took office. Her stance on this issue has helped ensure Taiwan's national security and dealt a blow to China's efforts to improve its image in the international community.
Merkel and Bush reportedly discussed how they are going to interact with China in the future, but no details have been made public. Nonetheless, Merkel did point out that "Germany and the US will jointly deal with countries such as China unwilling to obey any rules." This indicates that the US and Germany have reached an agreement on their China policy and intend to take a hard line on Beijing.
Although Hu paid a state visit to Germany last month, Merkel refused to discuss the arms embargo with him, and urged China to value the importance of freedom and practice the rule of law.
During her trip to the US, Merkel also stressed that the US and Germany should base their relations on counterterrorism. Although she did not clearly show her support for the US-led war in Iraq, her stance on this issue is clearly different from Schroeder's. Merkel also threw her weight behind the US decision to use the UN Security Council to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. Seeing the US, the UK and Germany take a unified stance on this particular issue was unprecedented. France was therefore motivated to follow suit and consent to the idea.
As for Hu, he is faced with a conundrum. Iran is China's biggest oil supplier, and Beijing has always been a staunch supporter of Tehran. The US, UK, France, and Germany are taking a consistent stance on Iran's nuclear activities, making Beijing feel isolated.
In short, China has not been able to form an alliance with the EU to counterbalance the US -- a failure that will greatly reduce its influence on world affairs.
Cao Changqing is a Chinese dissident and writer based in the US.
TRANSLATED BY DANIEL CHENG