As China steps into the role of globalization’s biggest supporter—a position vacated by the US since Donald Trump was elected on an “America First” platform—Europe is shifting its focus east. Last year, China unseated the US as Germany’s largest trading partner. An added insult: the US fell to third place, behind France, in the trade rankings with Europe’s largest and most powerful economy.
Europe is broadening its allies amid concerns about Trump’s attitude towards the region. Trump praised the UK’s vote to quit the European Union and has called NATO obsolete. He’s also expressed considerable criticism of Germany, calling chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door refugee policy a catastrophe and accusing it of unfairly engineering a cheap euro (paywall) to boost its exports. (Germany recently reported record-breaking trade and current-account surpluses.)
The US has a $65 billion trade deficit with Germany, a source of angst for Trump, who sees deficits as signs of weakness. The US remains Germany’s top export destination, a position that might not last for long if the US president follows through on his threats.
Last month, Trump singled out BMW and said he would consider imposing punitive tariffs on the carmaker if it went ahead with plans to build some of the cars it sold in the US in Mexico. Germany’s economy minister, meanwhile, said his countrymen would happily buy more US-made vehicles if American automakers would “build better cars.”
This week, Chinese president Xi Jinping detailed Beijing’s desire to “guide” the global economy. “We should guide the international community to jointly build a more just and reasonable new world order,” he said. These plans align with European officials who remain committed to deeper integration and globalization.
China and the EU are planning to bring forward an annual trade summit, according to Reuters. Chinese officials asked to host the summit as early as possible “to send a message to the United States that it has friends in Europe,” Reuters reported an EU official saying. China has been Germany’s biggest source of imports for the past eight years, and looks likely to stay in top spot for a long time to come.