Garrie van Pinxteren
Wopke Hoekstra (CDA), Minister of Foreign Affairs and Deputy Prime Minister, will visit Beijing on Tuesday and Wednesday. The deputy prime minister is the first member of the cabinet to visit China again after more than three years. China was previously almost completely locked down by corona.
Hoekstra said earlier that he will talk about “easy and difficult topics”, but the difficult topics are much easier to think of than the easy ones. There is a whole laundry list of sensitive points to discuss with his Chinese counterparts.
The program includes talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang and China’s Vice President Han Zheng. Han was in the Netherlands earlier this month. Han was received there by Prime Minister Rutte and – quite exceptional for a vice president – by King Willem-Alexander.
Hoekstra comes at a sensitive time, just after the summit of the G7 countries in Hiroshima. There, more than before, strong and fairly unanimous criticism was leveled at China.
For example, there was the accusation that China interferes in the internal affairs of other countries. China would also use its economic strength as a political weapon, to force other countries to do what China wants. Demands were also made of China: for example, the country must exert more pressure on Russia and China must adopt a less aggressive attitude towards Taiwan.
These are complaints that the Netherlands also share one by one. Hoekstra will probably also discuss some of these matters in Beijing, although China reacted furiously and complained to Japan.
There is the point of Chinese interference. The Netherlands has also had to deal with this directly. At the end of last year it was revealed that there are illegal Chinese police stations in the Netherlands that are also involved in tracking down and putting pressure on people who have fled from China.
In addition, there was recently the case of a Dutch journalist on whose behalf false bomb threats were made.
There are also two critical reports about China from the Dutch intelligence services MIVD and AIVD, in which China is accused of attempted theft of chip, aviation and space technology from the Netherlands, among other things.
On the Chinese side, ASML is probably high on the agenda. From this summer, the Dutch maker of high-quality chip machines may only sell its “most advanced” DUV machines to China with a special export permit.
Not all details are clear yet and China will probably urge Hoekstra to limit the damage as much as possible. He will emphasize that it is not good for the Dutch economy itself, as China sees it, to walk too much on the leash of America in this matter.
The war in Ukraine is also an important issue for the Netherlands. Hoekstra will probably urge China to put more pressure on Russia.
China is increasingly pushing for a ceasefire and peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. China wants to freeze the conflict, but Ukraine, the G7 and the Netherlands also propose a completely different solution: Russia must first withdraw from all occupied territories, only then can peace be discussed.
China is also likely to raise the Taiwan issue. Tensions around the island are increasing, and that is also increasingly worrying the Netherlands. But China takes the position that no other country has the right to speak: Taiwan is an internal Chinese matter, it is up to China to solve it in a way that China sees fit. This also applies to problems in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.
Perhaps the least clearly defined point to talk about is that of so-called “de-risking”. Like many other European countries, the Netherlands wants to reduce the risks of doing business with China, but it does not want to cut ties with China either. That is detrimental to the economy, China keeps insisting, and perhaps just practically impossible.
In addition, Hoekstra’s visit is of a preparatory and exploratory nature. The next logical step would be a visit by Prime Minister Rutte to China. That may take place later this year.
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