President Xi Jinping's message to EU: Form own opinion on China

China's President Xi Jinping (left) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen appear via video link at an EU-China summit on April 1, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged the European Union to “form its own perception of China” and to adopt an independent China policy, as Beijing grows increasingly worried about Europe’s alignment with the United States, intensified by Russia’s war with Ukraine.

But the EU, in its 23rd summit with China on Friday (April 1), came with a clear message: Help stop the war.

There were expectations ahead of the virtual meeting that both sides had different agendas – China, for one thing, would have been reluctant to dwell on Ukraine, which the EU has said would be its top priority in the discussions.

While President Xi described the situation in Ukraine as “deeply regrettable” and said China has been supporting peace talks “in its own way”, the EU warned of consequences if Beijing were to support Moscow in evading sanctions.

China has a “special responsibility” as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty, said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to reporters after her meeting with the Chinese president on Friday night.

“We also made very clear that China should, if not support, at least not interfere with our sanctions,” she said, alongside European Council president Charles Michel.

Doing so would lead to “major reputational damage for China here in Europe”, she added.

Sentiments towards China have hardened across European capitals as Beijing refuses to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and has repeatedly urged the US and Europe to consider Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “legitimate security concerns”.

With nagging suspicions that China will come to Russia’s aid to circumvent sanctions, the relationship between the bloc and Beijing is under pressure - something Beijing does not wish for as it continues to look to European markets and to draw European countries away from US influence.

China is the EU’s largest trading partner, while the bloc overtook Asean to become China’s top trading partner in the first two months of this year.

Mr Xi told the two EU leaders that China and the bloc, “as two major forces, big markets and great civilisations, should increase communication on their relations and on major issues concerning global peace and development, and play a constructive role in adding stabilising factors to a turbulent world”, based on a Chinese foreign ministry readout of the meeting.

In an earlier video call with both Dr von der Leyen and Mr Michel, Premier Li Keqiang called for the two sides to cooperate on Covid-19 response, climate change and the digital economy, as well as in areas such as energy and food security, and in stabilising global supply chains.

Chinese state media have tried to cast Europe as being used by the US, which they continue to call the “culprit” of the war, and project China as a bridge for Europe to engage Russia.

“The EU is now kidnapped by the US on security, but that does not conform to the strategic independence EU has pursued,” the Global Times quoted an EU-China relations scholar Cui Hongjian as saying.

The last EU-China Summit was in 2020, when both sides had negotiated an investment deal that was later shelved after Brussels blocked its passage when China imposed sanctions on EU lawmakers.

The sanctions were in retaliation for European sanctions against Chinese officials over human rights violation charges in Xinjiang.

EU-China relations have also been soured over Lithuania. The EU filed a case with the World Trade Organisation earlier this year against China for blocking imports from the Baltic state after it allowed Taiwan to open a representative office in its capital city of Vilnius. 

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