In early April, EU leaders virtually teamed up with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Their objective was clear. Pushing China to the maximum to stand up to Putin and Russian aggression in Ukraine. And if not, at least the promise that Beijing will not support Moscow directly. However, they did not lose their rock-solid Chinese position.
“We expect from China that if it does not support our sanctions, it will do everything possible to ensure that it does not interfere in the situation,” European Commission president said after EU-China summit . Ursula von der Leyen. Moreover, EU leaders have made it clear that they want China to use its influence to help end the war in Ukraine. According to the President of the European Council Charles Michel so “any help to Russia to circumvent the sanctions will mean prolonging the conflict”.
dialogue of the deaf
However, the twenty-seven’s urgent appeals contrasted sharply with the stern response from the Chinese. “Beijing and Brussels must play a constructive and stabilizing role in an increasingly turbulent world,” the Chinese president said. According to him, the conflict is “regrettable” and it is necessary “to seek a solution which is practicable for all the parts”. Not a single word was ‘war’ or ‘invasion’.
Thus, this summit did not result in a more fundamental change towards peace in Ukraine. As described by the head of EU diplomacy Joseph Borell, it was a “dialogue of the deaf”. According to him, the Chinese did not want to talk about Ukraine at all, but the Chinese president wanted to focus on “more positive things”. According to Borrell, the only thing China clarified in the context of Ukraine was that it viewed the use of weapons of mass destruction as a “red line.”
The summit thus provided at least a clearer picture of the position of the two actors. Above all, Europe has received a clear signal from Beijing that it will certainly not help the West in the fight against the Putin regime. Beijing, on the other hand, received a not-so-specific warning from Brussels that with open support for the Kremlin, China risks “destroying its reputation” in the eyes of the European public and businesses.
China balances and watches closely
According to the researcher, China’s “equilibrium” position is Alice Kizekova of the Institute of International Relations must be seen through the prism of geopolitical ambitions and economic interests. “Beijing is consistent in its approach and carefully balances its interests. In Ukraine, it is economic, it is about the global logistics of transport to Europe. It then maintains a strategic partnership with Russia and shares borders with her. And he also cares about his own reputation and position. China has a clear goal to strengthen its position in the international system,” she told EURACTIV.cz.
It is the “most important” and “unshakeable” strategic partnership, as defined by Russian-Chinese relations, that sends shivers down the spine of Western leaders. They are under no illusions that Chinese support would fundamentally reverse the current course of the war in Ukraine.
In particular, Beijing is converging its efforts to weaken the Western liberal order in international politics, as well as mutual investment and energy. The concordance in their direction is well illustrated, for example, by China’s support for Taiwan, the numerous votes of the UN Security Council and the joint military exercises announced for the period 2021 to 2025. In addition, the countries operate within the Shanghai Domestic Cooperation Organization. the political questions of foreign states”.
In many ways, however, the two authoritarian countries differ, and the relationship is not without problems. These include the competition for influence in Central Asia or the problem of migration in the Far East.
Therefore, China is now rather watching the reactions of the international community and the West. From the start in 2014, the conflict in Ukraine provided him with a valuable picture of the behavior of the Union, NATO and Washington in the context of the annexation or occupation of a certain territory. “It just came to our knowledge at that time. Especially in terms of imposing sanctions and providing military and non-military assistance,” Kizeková said.
The so far rather muted support for Russia is mainly due to China’s concerns about its business activities in Ukraine. China is China’s largest trading partner after kyiv. Moreover, according to the Ukrainian President Volodymyra Zelensky last year, the country wanted to be a “bridge to Europe” for China. These include the flagship Chinese project Silk Roads (Belt and Road Initiative). The progressive destruction of the Ukrainian economy and infrastructure by the Russian army therefore runs counter to Chinese economic interests.
And trade also plays the first fiddle in China’s relations with the EU. The Old Continent, together with the United States, accounts for about a quarter of China’s foreign trade. Russia’s share is then only about two percent. Stronger Chinese support for Vladimir Poutine Beijing could therefore be harmed if the EU decides to resort to certain sanctions. However, they would significantly affect the Twenty-Seven themselves.
According to Kizekova, in the current situation, a reduction in trade with China is unlikely. According to her, business ties are particularly evident in Germany. “If Germany does not unite more radically in EU policy, no drastic measures will be taken. This can be seen in the relationship with Russia, where the Germans have long built independent economic relations and are now unable to completely cut themselves off. It’s the same with China, where they have an above-standard market position compared to other member states,” explained the researcher.
Trade relations between the EU and China have cracked in recent years. One of them was the failure of the Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI). The two sides have been negotiating for almost seven years, but last year the ratification itself was rejected by the European Parliament, which has long denounced human rights abuses, particularly by Uyghurs in the province. from Xinjiang.
Another deterioration occurred late last year, when Lithuania allowed the de facto opening of the Taiwan embassy in the capital Vilnius. Besides diplomatic moves, China has also launched a trade boycott of Lithuanian products. The EU came to Vilnius’ defense and called the Chinese practices “illegal” and “contrary to WTO rules”.
In this context, Brussels is considering setting up a so-called anti-pressure instrument, which should enable the EU to better respond to similar coercive practices. “We will be more assertive in protecting our interests. The instrument will help us to defend ourselves against players who do not follow the rules,” said the European Commissioner for Trade. Valdis Dombrovskis.