China resists tougher Russia response at ‘frank’ summit with EU

Chinese leaders tell EU counterparts they will push for peace in Ukraine in their ‘own way’, pushing back against calls for a tougher approach.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on screens at the China-EU virtual summit
Chinese President Xi Jinping and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during the EU China summit, which was held online [Olivier Matthys/Pool via Reuters]

China has offered the European Union assurances that it will seek peace in Ukraine as it resisted pressure from the grouping to adopt a tougher stance on Russia.

In the first China-EU summit in two years, Premier Li Keqiang told EU leaders that Beijing would push for peace in “its own way”, while President Xi Jinping, who has developed a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he hoped the EU would take an “independent” approach, in a nod to Europe’s close ties with the United States.

The EU told Beijing during the virtual summit not to allow Moscow to circumvent Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said leaders from both sides “exchanged very clearly opposing views” on many topics, but expressed hopes that China would use its influence as a major power and permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to convince Russia to stop the fighting.

“We called on China to help end the war in Ukraine. China cannot turn a blind eye to Russia’s violation of international law,” European Council President Charles Michel told a news briefing with von der Leyen after the first summit since December 30, 2020.

“Any attempts to circumvent sanctions or provide aid to Russia would prolong the war,” he said.

China has been forging closer security and economic ties with Russia and has refused to condemn what Russia has styled a “special military operation” in Ukraine or call it an invasion. Beijing has repeatedly criticised what it calls illegal and unilateral Western sanctions. Several weeks before the February 24 invasion, China and Russia declared a “no-limits” strategic partnership.

Xi told the EU leaders that the root cause of the Ukraine crisis “was regional security tensions in Europe” and that the “fundamental solution was to accommodate the legitimate security concerns of all relevant parties”, according to the state-run Global Times. Li said China had always sought peace and promoted negotiation, and was willing to continue to play a constructive role with the international community, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

Before the meeting, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned that China “disapproves of solving problems through sanctions, and we are even more opposed to unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction that have no basis in international law”.

Zhao said when it comes to Ukraine, Beijing would not be forced to “choose a side or adopt a simplistic friend-or-foe approach. We should, in particular, resist the Cold War thinking and bloc confrontation.”

He also portrayed the US as the aggressor.

“As the culprit and leading instigator of the Ukraine crisis, the US has led NATO to engage in five rounds of eastward expansion in the last two decades after 1999,” he said, adding that NATO membership almost doubled from 16 to 30 countries, and pushed “Russia to the wall step by step.”

Michel and von der Leyen described the tone of the summit as “open and frank”.

China is concerned that the EU is taking cues from the US and adopting a harder line on foreign policy. In 2019, the EU abruptly switched from its usual soft diplomatic language to label China a systemic rival.

The EU has also joined the US and the United Kingdom in sanctioning Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang and the crackdown in Hong Kong.

Beijing has retaliated by freezing the implementation of an already-negotiated EU-China investment deal. It has also suspended imports from Lithuania after Taiwan opened a de facto embassy in Vilnius, angering Beijing which claims the democratically ruled island as its own.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies