BRUSSELS — The European Union on Friday called on China not to support Russia’s war on Ukraine or undermine Western sanctions against Moscow, during the first summit between the two sides in two years.
The summit, in separate sessions with Beijing leaders Prime Minister 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 trade boycott. of Lithuania to host a representative office of Taiwan.
Relations between Europe and China have been essentially frozen since the EU imposed sanctions on China last year for its abuses against 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 specific agreement, and there was no joint press conference. But China and the bloc are each other’s biggest trading partners, and China is eager to maintain and strengthen its trade with the bloc, but without disrupting its relations with Russia, a friendship it declared had “no borders”, just days before the invasion of Ukraine.
While tensions were high, Friday’s meeting’s main effort was to try to manage the relationship with China, EU officials said. As expected, Chinese leaders said they were in favor of an early peace in Ukraine, but did nothing to withdraw from their alliance with Russia.
Both sides agreed that “this war threatens global security and the world economy,” said Charles Michel, President of the European Council, after the virtual summit.
“Any attempt to circumvent sanctions or provide aid to Russia would prolong the war,” he said, leading to “increased loss of life and greater economic impact.”
Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Europeans stressed that “no European citizen would understand any support for Russia’s ability to wage war”, which “would cause major reputational damage for China here in Europe” .
But China, as a member of the UN Security Council committed to upholding international law, could do much good for itself by influencing its ally Russia to end the war quickly, she said.
In normal times, Ms von der Leyen noted, China’s trade with the European Union is almost EUR 2 billion per day, while China’s trade with Russia is approximately EUR 330 million per day.
So there was little doubt that economic relations were paramount to the Chinese leaders. In a statement from 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 sustained growth of relations between China and the EU.”
China has regularly attempted to sever the European Union’s close relations with the United States, which have only been strengthened by the war in Ukraine. Mr Xi mentioned the war in Ukraine only in passing, 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 statement issued after the session with Mr. Li, who came first and lasted two hours, twice as long as the session with Mr. Xi, was also faint.
“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 in rapidly easing the situation, cessation of hostilities, averting a wider humanitarian crisis, and the return of peace at an early stage,” the statement said.
But because it aligns itself with Russia, China has for the first time criticized the NATO alliance in terms borrowed from Moscow. Since then, Washington has publicly warned China not to provide material or financial support to the war in Russia, including helping Russia avoid Western sanctions.
China has always been eager to separate European Union countries from the United States and even from each other, said Philippe Le Corre, a China expert and senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the Carnegie Endowment.
But with China’s stance on Ukraine, its “limitless” 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 actions against Lithuania, Mr. . Le Corre said: “China also has a worse and worse image in Europe.”
Consequently, he said, “this meeting seems to have been a dialogue of the deaf.” The Europeans tried to convince the Chinese not to interfere in sanctions against Russia, he said, “but that’s the best they can hope for.”
Yet China seems gripped by the difficulties of the Russian war and embarrassed by its destruction. Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said China still supports Ukraine’s independence and would work with the international community to call for a ceasefire.
The latest on China: important things to know
Marriages and divorces. Faced with a rapidly rising divorce rate, China enacted a rule that forces married couples to undergo a 30-day cooling-off period before officially breaking up. The measure appears to have been effective in reducing divorce, but is unlikely to help with a demographic crisis fueled by a declining number of marriages.
But two days ago, on Wednesday, Mr. Wang received his Russian counterpart, Sergei V. Lavrov, and insisted that China-Russia relations had “passed the test of changes in the international situation” and that Beijing should bilateral relations to “an even higher level.”
He added, echoing China’s earlier language, that “China-Russia cooperation knows no boundaries.”
China is also dissatisfied with the close relationship between Brussels and Washington over Ukraine. State broadcaster CCTV wrote in an editorial on Tuesday that Europe, “which has been repeatedly stabbed in the back by the United States”, must not make the same mistakes and must “be dragged into danger by the US”.
The last summit between the European Union and China was in June 2020. Then, in December 2020, just before President Biden took office, the EU and China signed a comprehensive investment agreement, a deal that has been widely criticized by the European Parliament and by Washington.
Later, after China responded to EU sanctions for abuse in Xinjiang by sanctioning MEPs, the parliament refused to take up the ratification of the agreement, which is now considered dead.
One of the sanctioned, Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the German Green Party leading the Chinese delegation to the European Parliament, noted the surprise to Moscow and Beijing of Western solidarity with Ukraine.
The European Union, he said, must “underpin this strategic solidarity with democratic countries by making it clear to Chinese leaders that any violation of the Western sanctions regime against Russia will have direct consequences.”
Relations are hardly improved by China’s economic sanctions against tiny Lithuania, which last year dared to open a Taiwanese government representative office, effectively an embassy, and allow it to use the word Taiwan instead of Taipei. the capital that China prefers.
While the world legally considers Taiwan a part of China, Taiwan considers itself a separate, democratic nation and has also proven to be vital in producing advanced semiconductors on which Europe depends.
China has not only organized a boycott of trade with Lithuania, but has also tried to block trade in goods using parts made in Lithuania. The European Union has filed a World Trade Organization case against China that could take years to resolve and has complicated relations with Beijing.
Keith Bradsher contributed reporting from Beijing.