The EU and China are holding a bilateral summit this Friday that may mark the survival of politically very tense but very fruitful relations for the economy of both parties. Brussels will demand in crystal clear terms the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, to refrain from helping Russia in its attack against Ukraine, both in the supply of military weapons and in formulas to circumvent Western sanctions. Community sources emphasize: “Any financial or arms assistance would be interpreted as the end of China’s neutrality in the conflict.” Community organizations trust that Beijing will not cross that dangerous line, but they warn that, if it did, it would suffer serious political and economic consequences on the international scene.
The videoconference meeting, predictably tense, will include the participation of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the High Representative for Foreign Policy of the EU, Josep Borrell. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will participate in the morning session. And President Xi, in the afternoon. Neither side aspires to a common declaration or a shared press conference, two objectives that used to focus attention at previous EU-China summits. “This is a summit in the midst of a war that threatens the security of Europe and the international order; if it is possible to stop the death and destruction in Ukraine or contribute to avoiding the use of weapons of mass destruction, it will be much more important than any declaration, ”says a European source.
Brussels wants Beijing to actively commit to collaborating in stopping the conflict. And, above all, not to take any steps that could help Russian President Vladimir Putin to overcome the difficulties he is encountering on the battlefield, due to the resistance of the Ukrainian Army, and in the economic field, due to the sanctions imposed by the West. “It is not about setting any red line for China, but if you provide weapons to Moscow or help it to dodge sanctions, it is clear that it would no longer be neutral,” community sources point out.
After the start of the war, the EU had encouraged the Chinese government to take advantage of its ability to pressure Putin to stop the attack and act as a mediator. Now he seems content that he does not side with the aggressor, a decision that would further unbalance the war against Ukraine and, above all, would reinforce the scenario of confrontation between the West and the rest of the world that spreads the Kremlin’s propaganda. Brussels fears that China will move from its biased neutrality in favor of Moscow to clear and tangible support. “Do you prolong this war or put an end to it? This is the existential question of the summit”, add community sources.
The EU is convinced that Beijing’s interests do not go through supporting a war whose escalation, if it occurs, would endanger world peace and interrupt a commercial globalization from which China has been one of the main beneficiaries. European sources consider it unlikely that “China risks losing what has been achieved during three decades of stability and endangering the regime’s promise to its citizens that each generation will live better than the previous one”.
But in Brussels, there is great concern about the scope of the joint declaration signed by Xi and Putin in Beijing on February 4, just 20 days before the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The text was interpreted as a declaration of war against the international order sponsored by the West and prevailing since the end of World War II. And for the first time, China was speaking out against the enlargement of NATO, a military organization that until now seemed to have escaped the radar of the eastern communist regime.
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In response to this common front, Michel, Von der Leyen and Borrell will not hesitate to point out to Li and Xi the scope of the trade ties between China and the EU compared to the scant weight of their economic ties with Moscow. The European market absorbs 15% of Chinese exports compared to 1.9% for the Russian market. In 2019, the last year before the pandemic, trade in goods between China and the EU amounted to 560 billion euros, with a trade deficit in favor of the Chinese side of 160 billion euros.
But these multimillion-dollar flows have not prevented relations between Brussels and Beijing from tensing in recent years, especially since in 2019 the European Commission described China as a “systemic rival”, a term that upsets the Xi regime. The clash worsened in March 2021, when the EU imposed sanctions on China, the first in 30 years, for the persecution of the Uyghur ethnic minority. Beijing retaliated and its sanctions included five members of the European Parliament, which left in the air an investment agreement that aspired to increase the flow of European capital to China and vice versa.
European sources warn that relations with China will deteriorate further, to the point of difficult return, if Beijing opts for Putin in the attack on Ukraine. “China’s international image will be damaged, its companies, its banks and its ability to offer prosperity to its citizens will be affected,” warn these sources, with terms that resemble, although to a lesser degree, threats of “sanctions”. mass actions” that were launched before the war to try to dissuade the Russian president. The strategy did not work with Putin and there are doubts about his effectiveness with Xi.
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