Europe urges China not to support Russia’s war in Ukraine

BRUSSELS – The European Union on Friday urged China not to support Russia’s war on Ukraine or undermine Western sanctions against Moscow at the first summit between the two sides in two years.

The summit, held in separate sessions with Beijing leaders, Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping, came as tensions ran high over Beijing’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, China’s human rights record and its trade boycott against Lithuania for hosting a representative office in Taiwan.

Relations between Europe and China have essentially been in a deep freeze since the EU last year imposed sanctions on China for its abuses of the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang, and China responded by punishing members of the European Parliament.

Friday’s summit did not produce a joint statement or concrete agreement, and there was no joint press conference. But China and the bloc are each other’s largest trading partners, and China is keen to maintain and improve its trade with the bloc, but without disrupting its ties with Russia, a friendship that began just days before invading Ukraine declared “limitless”.

With tensions high, the main task of Friday’s meeting was to try to settle relations with China, EU officials said. As expected, Chinese leaders said they favor an early peace in Ukraine but did nothing to back away from their alliance with Russia.

Both sides agreed that “this war threatens global security and the world economy,” Charles Michel, President of the European Council, said after the virtual summit.

“Any attempt to circumvent sanctions or provide aid to Russia would prolong the war,” he said, leading to “more casualties and greater economic impact.”

Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission President, said Europeans stressed that “no European citizen would understand any support for Russia’s ability to wage war” which would “result in great reputational damage for China here in Europe”.

But China, as a member of the UN Security Council committed to upholding international law, could do a lot of good for itself by influencing Russia, its ally, to end the war quickly, she said.

In normal times, Ms von der Leyen said, Chinese trade with the European Union amounts to almost 2 billion euros a day, while Chinese trade with Russia amounts to about 330 million euros a day.

So there was little doubt that economic relations were of the utmost importance to the Chinese leadership. In a statement issued by Mr Xi, he focused on mutual cooperation and urged Brussels to “form its own perception of China, pursue an independent China policy and work with China for the steady and sustainable growth of China-China relations.” to work together with the EU”.

China has regularly attempted to sever the European Union’s close ties with the United States, which the war in Ukraine has only strengthened. Mr Xi made only passing mention of the war in Ukraine, noting that it came on top of the coronavirus pandemic and slower global growth, while urging Brussels and Beijing to help stabilize “a turbulent world”.

The explanation given after the session with Mr. Li, which took place first and lasted two hours, twice as long as the session with Mr. Xi, was similarly boring.

“China has promoted peace talks in its own way and will continue to work with the EU and the international community to play a constructive role for an early deflation of the situation, a cessation of hostilities, the prevention of a major humanitarian crisis and the return of peace at an early stage,” the statement said.

But while allying itself with Russia, China has for the first time criticized the NATO alliance with language copied from Moscow. Since then, Washington has publicly warned China not to support Russia’s war, materially or financially, including helping Russia avoid Western sanctions.

China has always sought to separate European Union countries from the United States and even from each other, said Philippe Le Corre, China expert and senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Carnegie Endowment.

But with China’s positions on Ukraine, its “boundless” friendship with Russia, its attacks on NATO, its actions in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, its refusal to let the world investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic and its moves against Lithuania, said Mr Le Corre said: “China has an increasingly bad image in Europe as well.”

Consequently, he said, “this meeting appears to have been a dialogue of the deaf.” The Europeans tried to persuade the Chinese not to interfere in sanctions against Russia, he said, “but that’s the best they can hope for .”

Still, China seems caught up in the difficulties of the Russian war and embarrassed by the destruction. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China continues to support Ukraine’s independence and will work with the international community to call for a ceasefire.

But two days ago, on Wednesday, Mr. Wang received his Russian counterpart, Sergei V Lavrov, and insisted that China-Russia ties have withstood “the test of changes in the international situation” and that Beijing has strengthened bilateral ties want to bring “even higher level”

He added, echoing China’s earlier language, that “China-Russia cooperation has no borders.”

China is also unhappy with how closely Brussels has allied itself with Washington on Ukraine. State broadcaster CCTV wrote in an editorial on Tuesday that Europe “which has been repeatedly stabbed in the back by the US” must not make the same mistakes and be “put at risk by the US”.

The last summit between the European Union and China took place in June 2020. Then, in December 2020, just before President Biden took office, the EU and China sides signed a comprehensive investment agreement, an agreement that was heavily criticized by the European Parliament and Washington.

Later, after China responded to EU sanctions over its abuses in Xinjiang by sanctioning members of the European Parliament, the parliament refused to ratify the deal, which is now considered dead.

One of those sanctioned, Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the German Greens who heads the European Parliament’s China delegation, noted Moscow’s and Beijing’s surprise at Western solidarity towards Ukraine.

The European Union must “underpin this strategic solidarity with democratic countries by making it clear to the Chinese leadership that any violation of the Western sanctions regime against Russia will have direct consequences”.

Relations are little improved by China’s economic sanctions on tiny Lithuania, which last year dared to open a Taiwanese government representative office, effectively an embassy, ​​and allowed it to use the word Taiwan instead of Taipei, the capital, which China preferred.

While the world considers Taiwan legally part of China, Taiwan considers itself a separate, democratic nation and has also proven itself indispensable in the manufacture of sophisticated semiconductors on which Europe depends.

In addition to organizing a trade boycott with Lithuania, China has also tried to block trade in goods that use Lithuanian-made components. The European Union has launched a case against China at the World Trade Organization that may take years to resolve and has complicated relations with Beijing.

Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing. Europe urges China not to support Russia’s war in Ukraine

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