China and the European Union held a virtual summit on Friday, which was overshadowed by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
E.U. leaders pressed Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping to reconsider their tacit support for the Russian invasion in a series of two meetings, and warned Beijing against providing material support for the war.
After the meeting, European Council President Charles Michel told reporters in Brussels, “We called on China to end the war in Ukraine.” “China cannot turn a blind eye to Russia’s international law violations.”
The Chinese side expressed little interest in discussing the violence in Ukraine or its support for Russia, preferring to focus on areas of cooperation between China and the EU. During the call between Xi and EU leaders, a Chinese readout of the meeting made no mention of Moscow.
China and Europe should work together to “stabilize” the world, according to a brief report from Xinhua, the Communist Party’s news agency, which also encouraged the EU to adopt a “independent” foreign policy, a reference to China’s concern that Europe is becoming too close to the US.
The summit takes place at a pivotal juncture in world events. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has thrown Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture into disarray, forcing the European Union to reconsider its approach to authoritarian regimes.
The European Union has gradually taken a tougher stance on China in recent years. Now, China’s unspoken support for Russia as it attacks Ukraine appears to be hastening this shift, bringing the EU closer to the United States’ stance on China.
The 27-nation bloc is unusually united in its condemnation of the war and its displeasure with Russian deception. It regrets ignoring warning signs and failing to distance itself from Moscow sooner — a realization that, according to EU diplomats and analysts, could shape how it interacts with Beijing in the future.
The summit had low expectations. A senior European official predicted that the talks would fail to produce concrete deliverables, let alone a joint statement, ahead of the meetings. According to the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to E.U. ground rules, the bloc does not believe China will abandon its rhetorical support for Russia. The EU, on the other hand, hopes that its pressure will deter Beijing from providing material support, whether in the form of arms or by assisting Russia in evading sanctions.
Meanwhile, Beijing has attempted to divert attention away from Ukraine.
Xi met Putin on the sidelines of the Beijing Olympics in the run-up to the invasion, and the two signed a lengthy joint statement extolling the breadth and depth of Sino-Russian ties. China has blamed the US for the conflict, repeated Russian talking points about NATO expansion, and boosted conspiracy theories about US bioweapons labs in Ukraine.
However, as the fighting has progressed, Beijing has attempted to put some distance between itself and Moscow. Officials from China have expressed concern about the death toll and mentioned humanitarian assistance to Ukraine. Xi said the fighting in Ukraine is “not something we want to see” in a video call with President Biden.
Beijing claims to be in a neutral position. According to a source familiar with official discussions in Beijing, Chinese officials have been surprised and concerned by how closely the EU has collaborated with the US since the invasion, particularly on Russia sanctions.
China’s messaging ahead of Friday’s meetings has been aimed at driving a wedge between the EU and the US, warning Europe not to get dragged into conflict by the Americans.
An article in the English-language edition of the Global Times, a Communist Party-controlled publication known for its strident nationalism, published just hours before the summit warned that “China-EU relations cannot be kidnapped by the Ukraine crisis, and Europe should no longer be abducted by the US in foreign policy.”
“Europe’s pressure on China before the summit was a usual trick it played to manipulate the summit’s agenda and coerce China into standing with the E.U. and the US on the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” the piece said.
The early readout on the summit by Xinhua resulted in English-language news alerts highlighting Xi’s main points. One such alert stated, “Chinese President Xi hopes the EU can form an independent view of China.”