ATGod the endless videoconferences: in diplomacy, nothing beats direct contact. The aerial activity of political leaders and their ministers has resumed its rights in the post-Covid world with a frenzy of travel to get the carbon footprint counters racing. Circuits, however, have changed. A new hub is emerging around which much of this frenzy revolves: Beijing.
Since reopening after three years of zero Covid policy, the Chinese capital has been the place to be. As if to make up for lost time, from the Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, to the French President, Emmanuel Macron, from the Head of the Malaysian Government, Anwar Ibrahim, to the Brazilian President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, without forgetting the many bilateral talks in margin of the G20 in Bali (Indonesia) in November 2022, people come from all over the world to see Xi Jinping, the all-powerful master of China. The latest, the President of Gabon, Ali Bongo, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday 18 April.
The Europeans are not the least in a hurry. The German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, topped everyone at the post in November 2022, followed by Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, then the President of the Spanish Government, Pedro Sanchez. Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, accompanied Mr. Macron; two of its vice-presidents, Josep Borrell and Frans Timmermans, have only had to give up the trip in recent days because a positive test for Covid-19 prevented them from leaving. The head of German diplomacy, Annalena Baerbock, she was able to fly away, the second emissary from Berlin in six months. And the Polish Prime Minister who criticizes this European assiduity probably forgets that its President, Andrzej Duda, had also come to talk trade with Xi in February 2022, when Russian forces were rushing to the gates of Ukraine.
They are all there – except the Americans. Aborted in February because of the controversy over Chinese “spy” balloons, the trip to Beijing by Antony Blinken, the Secretary of State, has still not been rescheduled. And, while he was wisely participating with his G7 colleagues in a meeting in Japan on Monday, many other things were happening under Western radars. Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister, landed in Brasilia in jeans and trainers. A way, perhaps, to show how comfortable he feels there. In any case, he was very well received there, especially by Lula, who had just returned from Beijing and Abu Dhabi. At the Rio Branco Institute, the diplomatic academy of Brasilia, he compared the “propaganda” Europeans to that of Goebbels. Brazil was the first leg of Mr. Lavrov’s tour of Latin America.
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