EU-China summit focuses on war in Ukraine amid tense relations

Top diplomats from the EU met via videoconference Friday with China’s leaders to discuss urgent matters including the war in Ukraine, the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.

Chinese President Xi Jinping addressed the afternoon session with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and the EU’s foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell.

Xi called on the EU and China “to prevent spillovers of the crisis.”

Watch video 00:30 ‘China should at least not interfere with our sanctions’

What did the two sides say?

Earlier in the day, the EU representatives also spoke with Li Keqiang, premier of China’s state council.

Li told his European counterparts China “opposes division of blocs and taking sides,” a Chinese diplomat told German press agency DPA. State broadcaster CCTV said Li added China is pushing for peace in “its own way.”

Von der Leyen said: “We made very clear China should not interfere with our sanctions.” She also warned Beijing that support for the Russian invasion “would lead to major reputational damage” for China in Europe.

The European Commission chief said that the EU had not received any explicit assurances from China on the matter.

Michel added that both sides had “agreed that the war in Ukraine is threatening global security and the world economy.

He went on to say that “any attempts to circumvent sanctions or provide aid to Russia would prolong the war” which is “not in anyone’s long term interests.”

What did the summit focus on?

The EU had said talks would focus on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change. China just placed Shanghai under lockdown due to coronavirus concerns.

China provides political backing to Moscow and supports its claim that the US, European allies, and NATO are responsible for the war Russia is waging in Ukraine. The EU strongly disagrees with this assessment, and hopes to use its influence and economic levers to sway China to change course.

Daniela Schwarzer, the executive director of the Open Society Foundations in Europe and Eurasia, told DW that could reverberate in many ways.

“If China gets involved in this war, there will be a totally new debate and that is on sanctioning China, which will be very costly for Europe,” Schwarzer said, adding, “The EU needs China in several ways.”

Watch video 04:21 ‘Growing alliance’ between China, Russia worrying for Europe: Daniela Schwarzer

Investments and trade form an economic component. But greater global challenges, such as climate change, require US and Chinese cooperation, she pointed out.

Total daily trade between the EU and China amounts to around $2 billion (€2.2 billion) while daily trade between China and Russia reaches only $330 million.

What is the state of EU-China relations?

At present, relations between the EU and China are tense. Last year, Beijing imposed retaliatory sanctions against EU lawmakers who were outspoken on issues China considers sensitive.

Europeans have criticized the persecution of China’s Uyghur minority and Tibetans. In Germany, companies such as Volkswagen hope to become less dependent on Chinese imports.

Another issue is the repression of a democratic movement in Hong Kong and efforts to subvert the longstanding policy of “one country, two systems” into a more Beijing-modeled one.

Pressure against Taiwan, which China views as a rebellious island belonging to it, is also a point of major contention. EU member state Lithuania’s support for Taiwan has been met with a block on Lithuanian goods and parts in Chinese ports, also raising the EU’s ire.

Watch video 03:14 Could China replace Europe as Russia’s key trading partner?

ab, ar/rt (AP, dpa, Reuters)