Speak softly and forget the stick, China experts warn ahead of Hu visit

Non-confrontational approach urged as Hu Jintao becomes China’s first head-of-state ever to visit Denmark this week

Establishing a good relationship during Hu Jintao’s visit will have more benefits down the road than a confrontational approach here and now, the government is being told on the eve of the Chinese president's visit. 

Hu will be staying in Denmark for three days, from June 14-16, making him the first Chinese head-of-state to visit Denmark and giving business leaders and political decision-makers ample opportunity to establish a rewarding relationship with their Chinese counterparts.

PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt will be keen to discuss several topics with the Chinese delegation, notably issues that pertain to the economic co-operation between the two countries, environmental dilemmas and the oft-criticised human rights situation in China. 

But the primary goal for Thorning-Schmidt and co will be to promote Danish business interests to China – something that can potentially have a massive impact on the stagnant Danish economy.

“The large Chinese companies pay attention to where the leaders of the country look to,” Karsten Dybvad, who is the managing director of Dansk Industri, a business lobby group, wrote on the organisation’s website. “That’s why the visit is an obvious opportunity to get the Chinese talking about Denmark and to view Denmark as an attractive country they can invest in.”

The unfortunate state of a Danish economy yearning for investment can provide the perfect bargaining chip for the Chinese as they pursue interests in Greenland and the Arctic areas

China has already invested heavily in Greenland and is looking to reap some benefits from the receding Arctic ice for shipping purposes and the 10 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil resources that are estimated to exist there.

“China is looking to the Scandinavian nations for support in their application to get status as a permanent observer in the Arctic Council,” Anne-Marie Brady, a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, told website Kinablog. “So it is no coincidence that first Iceland, Sweden and now Denmark are visited by high-level politicians from China.”

To this end, China has had four expeditions to Greenland and the Arctic, established a research outpost in Svalbard in northern Norway and has constructed an icebreaker vessel. But the cooled relationship with Norway means that China must acquire the support of the other Scandinavian nations in an attempt to realise its Arctic aspirations.

And the visit of Hu to Denmark is neither trivial nor coincidental, because as small as Denmark is geographically, it is significant in many fields, including sustainable energy technology, the pharmaceutical industry and food products.

China is particularly interested in sustainable energy in a bid to combat its increasing pollution issues, medicine to deal with health problems such as the sharp rise of diabetics as the country develops, and Danish food products such as dairy and pigs, which are favourite sources of food in China.

“In Denmark we have strong competencies within energy and resource-effective technologies, which the Chinese need as part of their transformation into a more sustainable economy,” Dybvad wrote. “But there’s massive potential for the drug and food industries in the Chinese market – something the visit can cater to.”

Aside from the business and environmental arenas, another topic that the Danes would want talks steered towards is China’s embattled human rights record. But that theme must be approached more gingerly, according to Xing Li, a lecturer and researcher at Aalborg University.

“A Chinese leader has never before visited Denmark and that’s why we should utilise the chance to build a bridge between the nations,” Li told Kristeligt Dagblad newspaper. “They need to look at economic co-operation and then human rights can be discussed at a later time.”

And Denmark could easily face economic ramifications for rubbing China up the wrong way. After Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese human rights activist won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, the relationship between China and Norway cooled considerably. With Denmark appearing to be back in China’s good books after the then PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen met with the Dalai Lama in 2009, this meeting may not present the ideal opportunity for a country with a moribund economy to challenge China’s suspect human rights track record.

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