Tuesday, May 24, 2022

EU leaders call on China to help end Russia’s war in Ukraine

“We called on China to end the war in Ukraine,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters in Brussels after the meeting. “China cannot turn a blind eye to Russia’s violation of international law.”

The Chinese side indicated less interest in discussing the violence in Ukraine or its support for Russia, preferring to keep the focus on areas of China-EU cooperation. A Chinese readout of the meeting published during the call between Xi and EU leaders made scant mention of Moscow.

The brief report from Xinhua, the Communist Party-controlled news agency, said China and Europe should work together to “stabilize” the world and encouraged the EU to adopt an “independent” foreign policy — a reference to China’s fear that Europe is growing too close to the United States.

The summit comes at an extraordinary moment in global affairs. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has upended Europe’s post-Cold War security architecture and forced the European Union to rethink its relationship with authoritarian regimes.

Over the last few years, the EU has slowly moved toward a tougher stance on China. Now China’s tacit support for Russia as it attacks Ukraine appears to be accelerating that shift, nudging the EU closer to the US position on China.

The 27-member bloc is uncommonly united in its outrage over the war and its anger at Russian deception. It regrets that it ignored warning signs and did not distance itself from Moscow earlier — a realization that could shape how it interacts with Beijing going forward, EU diplomats and analysts say.

Expectations for the summit were low. Ahead of the meetings, a senior European official said the talks would probably not yield concrete deliverables, or even a joint statement.

The bloc does not believe that China will abandon its rhetorical support for Russia, according to the senior official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity under EU ground rules. But the EU hopes that its pressure can help dissuade Beijing from offering material support, whether in the form of arms or helping Russia evade sanctions.

Beijing, meanwhile, has tried to shift the focus away from Ukraine.

In the run-up to the invasion, Xi met Putin on the sidelines of the Beijing Olympics and signed a lengthy joint statement extolling the breadth and depth of Sino-Russian ties. China has blamed the United States for the war, parroted Russian talking points about NATO expansion and amplified conspiracy theories about US bioweapon labs in Ukraine.

As the fighting has dragged on, however, Beijing has sometimes tried to distance itself ever-so-slightly from Moscow. Chinese officials have expressed concern over the human toll and mentioned humanitarian aid to Ukraine. In a video call with President Biden, Xi said the fighting in Ukraine is “not something we want to see.”

Beijing says its position is one of neutrality. Chinese officials have been surprised and worried by how closely the EU has worked with the United States since the invasion, particularly on Russia sanctions, a person familiar with official discussions in Beijing told The Washington Post.

Ahead of Friday’s meetings, China’s messaging has been focused on trying to drive a wedge between the EU and the United States, warning Europe not to get dragged into conflict by the Americans.

Hours ahead of the summit, for instance, an article in the English-language edition of the Global Times, a Communist Party-controlled outlet known for its strident nationalism, 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 against China coming before the summit,” the piece said, “was a usual trick it played attempting to manipulate the agenda of the summit and coerce China into standing with the EU and the US on the Russia-Ukraine conflict.”

Xinhua’s early readout on the summit led to English-language news alerts amplifying Xi’s central points. “Chinese President Xi says hopes the EU can form independent view towards China,” one such alert said.

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