China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang arrived in Berlin on Wednesday at the start of a European tour, poised to jump into the global climate change leadership gap left by U.S. President Donald Trump’s impending withdrawal from the Paris climate pact. China’s number two official was received with military honours at Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, becoming the second leader of a rising Asian giant to visit in as many days after India’s Narendra Modi.
The flurry of visits come as concern grows in traditionally Atlanticist Germany at Trump’s forthcoming announcement on the Paris Climate Accord, designed to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions scientists blame for rising sea levels and droughts. One source briefed on the decision said Trump would pull out of the pact.
At the G7 summit of wealthy nations this weekend, European and Canadian officials warned Trump that the U.S. risked ceding global leadership on combating climate change to China if it withdrew from the pact.
China, long recognised as the world’s dominant trading power, now hopes that by showing leadership on the fight against climate change it can translate its economic might into yet greater political influence.
“With the One Belt One Road initiative China has promoted itself as the country leader in environmental topics and multilateralism,” said one senior adviser to a G7 government, referring to China’s newly-created Eurasian cooperation forum.
Under Merkel, a passionate fan of the United States as a teenager growing up in communist East Germany, Europe’s richest country has been steadfast in its Atlanticism, even during the presidency of George W. Bush, which was marked by unilateral U.S. actions.
By contrast, relations between the world’s two exporting giants have often been tense, with China’s plans to introduce a minimum quota for electric vehicle sales a thorny current issue that Germany is expected to raise at this visit. A quota would hurt Germany’s still internal combustion-focused car industry.
But since the G7 summit, Merkel and other senior German politicians have signalled that they do not see a Trump-led U.S. as a reliable partner on a host of issues from free trade to climate change.
On Tuesday, she congratulated Modi for India’s “intensive” commitment to the climate pact during his visit, which was seen as a sign of Berlin shifting its focus towards Asia in response to Trump’s stance.
After Berlin, Li will continue to Brussels, where, at a China-European Union summit, both sides are expected to make a declaration on their commitment to tackling climate change – a proclamation designed to send a strong message to Trump.