Berlin | A tense back-and-forth in Berlin on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST) showed how a planned Chinese charm offensive in Europe only appears to have backfired.
On the final stop of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's five-nation swing through Europe, he was confronted by German counterpart Heiko Maas for saying the Czech Senate president would pay a "heavy price" for his Taiwan visit. Mr Maas said he'd spoken by phone with his Czech counterpart and emphasised that Europe wouldn't be intimidated.
"We as Europeans act in close cooperation – we offer our international partners respect, and we expect the exact same from them," Mr Maas said at a 50-minute press briefing in Berlin alongside Mr Wang. "Threats don't fit in here."
Mr Wang stood his ground, saying that Czech Senate President Milos Vystrcil's visit was an intervention in China's internal affairs and a violation to which the government in Beijing had to respond.
"You've crossed a red line," Mr Wang said in Berlin, referring to Vystrcil and his 90-member delegation, including Prague Mayor Zdenek Hrib, a Beijing critic who in January made Taipei a sister city to the Czech capital.
During the press briefing, Mr Wang was pressured on China's stance on Hong Kong, the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic, his assertive comments during his week-long European tour and China's treatment of ethnic Uighurs in the far west region of Xinjiang.
He issued an extended defence of Chinese policy, reiterating warnings that accusations against Beijing constitute an intervention in the country's internal affairs – and denying that China sought to disrupt relations.
"We are not trouble-makers," Mr Wang said.
The tensions overshadowed issues including an EU-China investment accord, which Angela Merkel's government had aimed to complete by the end of the year. Mr Maas said the 27-member bloc would assert its sovereignty and won't become a "play thing" as the US, China and Russia shake geopolitical foundations.
More broadly, it showed China's failure to win over Europe as it seeks to counter pressure from the Trump administration on everything from democracy in Hong Kong to data security over apps such as TikTok and WeChat.
The Chinese diplomat had started the five-nation European trip saying relations with Europe shouldn't suffer because of Beijing's intensifying stand-off with President Donald Trump, who has touted his strong stance against China on the campaign trail ahead of the November election. But his appearances tended to only ratchet up tensions with the region.