The summit last Friday dealt with bilateral issues in EU-China relations but was overshadowed by the war in Ukraine where the EU expects China to support the efforts to stop the war.
EU leaders Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, held the summit meeting via videoconference with China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang, followed by exchanges with China's President Xi Jinping.
Previous summits have focused on the challenges in EU-China trade relations, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and issues of human rights in China. The EU is China’s biggest trading partner, while China is the EU’s second largest. The EU is the world’s leading destination of foreign direct investments but China’s share of them is still relatively small.
Their relations have been described by EU as complicated, reflecting that “China is simultaneously a cooperation partner, a negotiating partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival.” In a review in 2020, the European Court of Auditors looked at EU’s response at the multiple risks China’s state-driven investment strategy poses to the EU, as well as the opportunities it presents.
Following this summit, the EU leaders stated that, “the EU and China had discussed extensively Russia's military aggression against Ukraine, which is endangering global security and the world's economy, as well as food and energy security. The EU highlighted that its key priority is to stop Russia's unjustified and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, a sovereign country and a key EU partner.”
"As major global powers, the EU and China must work together on stopping Russia's war in Ukraine as soon as possible,” Charles Michel stated “We have a common responsibility to maintain peace and stability, and a safe and sustainable world. Key international norms and principles must be respected.”
“EU counts on China's support to achieve a lasting ceasefire, to stop the unjustifiable war and address the dramatic humanitarian crisis it has generated.”
“We underlined that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is not only a defining moment for our continent, but also for our relationship with the rest of the world,” von der Leyen added. There must be respect for international law, as well as for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
“China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has a special responsibility. “No European citizen would understand any support to Russia's ability to wage war.”
The EU leaders also warned against any circumvention of the effects of the sanctions or any aid provided to Russia. “The international sanctions against Russia were imposed with the sole purpose of stopping Russia's aggression and despite a significant economic impact on the EU and its partners globally.”
In remarks at a press conference, von der Leyen also reminded that EU-China trade by far exceeds the trade between China and Russia. “A prolongation of the war, and the disruptions it brings to the world economy, is therefore in no-one's interest, certainly not in China's.”
In an op-ed in The Brussels Times ahead of the summit, the Chinese mission to the EU admitted “that China and the EU, naturally, do not always see eye to eye with each other.” It hoped the “EU can move beyond the ‘partner-competitor-rival’ characterization of its relations with China, and view China-EU relations from a strategic and long-term perspective."
As regards the war in Ukraine, “the current situation in Ukraine is something China does not want to see. Since the beginning of the crisis in Ukraine, China has been maintaining an objective and impartial position, making independent judgments based on the merits of the matter itself and promoting peace talks.”
“We believe that one country’s security should not come at the expense of that of others. It is equally true that rebuilding iron curtains, erecting walls of mistrust, and hyping up new Cold War rhetoric goes against the trend of history and cannot lead to peace and stability.”
Diplomatic statements like these are not enough for the EU and the international community which condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as an unprovoked attack of a sovereign country and a violation of international agreements. China may be the only power that can exert any influence on Russia and stop the war.
On the positive side, EU and China continue to cooperate constructively on climate issues and in the fight against COVID-19, according to the Commission president.
The Brussels Times