President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and President of the European Council Charles Michel on 25 March 2022 in Brussels (AFP / JOHN THYS)
The EU wants to convince China to give up on helping Moscow counter Western sanctions on Friday at a virtual summit where Beijing plans to revive its economic relationship with a Europe weakened by the war in Ukraine.
Speaking on behalf of the member states, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel will meet via videoconference with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and then President Xi Jinping.
“The meeting will focus on the role we encourage China to play in exerting all necessary influence and pressure on Russia. This was not the original purpose of the summit, it will necessarily be so,” it said on Tuesday. Business Clement Beaune.
“In concrete terms, it is essential to know whether China is using its influence to establish a ceasefire and humanitarian corridors” or “helping Moscow evade sanctions” by increasing its purchases of hydrocarbons or by financing financial aid, explains a European official.
Beijing refused to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, praising a “rock-solid” friendship with Moscow in early March and defending Russia’s “reasonable” concerns about its security.
– “Strategic calculation” –
“The Europeans will try to influence the strategic calculation of the Chinese leaders by pointing out the economic costs they would incur in the event of concrete aid to Russia,” estimates Grzegorz Stec of the German institute Merics.
Chinese President Xi Jinping on a video screen in Beijing on March 11, 2022 (AFP/NOEL CELIS)
“China’s complicated responses are a way to be on the Russian side without paying the price. Without increased pressure, Putin will bring more help,” German Green MP Reinhard Bütikofer fears.
But the EU is a prisoner of its strong interdependence with Beijing: it absorbs 15% of the Asian giant’s exports, supplying it with manufactured goods and crucial components. China represents 10% of the twenty-seven exports, an important market, especially for German industrialists.
At the instigation of Berlin, the EU and China signed an ambitious investment agreement at the end of 2020.
But its ratification has been frozen today by EU sanctions to sanction the use of forced labor in China’s Xinjiang region and Beijing’s counter-sanctions against European parliamentarians and researchers. Added to this is the conflict over China’s blocking of imports from Lithuania following the opening of a Taiwanese representation in this country.
“The danger is that China + sells too much of its neutrality + in order to obtain concessions, such as the resumption of negotiations on the investment agreement,” warns Valérie Niquet of the Foundation for Strategic Research.
– “Illusive” –
On Wednesday, during a visit to Beijing, the head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, received a reaffirmation of the two countries’ “unlimited” friendship with the United States, in the name of a new “multipolar world order”: a vision that raises concerns. increases over the rise of an “authoritarian” bloc against the West.
Evolution of Russia’s imports and exports with its main partners (AFP / )
“The idea of decoupling China from Russia is an illusion: when the war in Ukraine is over, the United States’ attention will focus primarily, and not in a friendly spirit, on China, which therefore has an interest in cooperation.” with his neighbor, Judge Sylvie Bermann, former French ambassador to Moscow and Beijing.
And to remember that China is not isolated, many countries (India, Pakistan, South Africa, Brazil…) also refuse to criticize Moscow.
For Beijing, Europeans have been drawn into a conflict instigated by Washington that has exposed the vulnerabilities of the West.
Ultra-dependent on Russian gas, “Europe may have shot itself in the foot by aligning itself with US sanctions,” warns the nationalist daily Global Times. He rejects any link between EU-China relations and the crisis between the Europeans and Moscow caused by the war in Ukraine, two issues which, according to the European official, are “inextricably linked”.
Asked about the summit on Wednesday, Chinese diplomatic spokesman Wang Wenbin hoped for “sustained and healthy development of relations between China and the EU, to inject stability and positive energy into a complex and turbulent world situation”, without making any reference to Ukraine.