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dialogue of the deaf between the European Union and China

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels on April 1, 2022.

They wanted to ensure that China did not help Russia and allow it to circumvent the heavy sanctions against it. The leaders of the European institutions, gathered for a virtual summit with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and then President Xi Jinping, Friday 1er April have they obtained the slightest guarantee from their interlocutors? The few rare questions that the journalists were authorized to put to them at the end of this discussion were enough to indicate that the answer is negative.

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Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the Commission, gave evasive answers, for lack of a clear commitment from the leaders of Beijing. “The Prime Minister and the President reiterated their willingness to commit to peace and security, indicated the President of the Council. We hope that our arguments have been heard and that China takes into account the question of its image and the importance of its relations with Europe. »

No tangible evidence

In Brussels, the meeting ended with a brief press release from the European leaders alone. They underlined the particular responsibility of China, “global actor”, a member of the UN Security Council and a power that maintains close relations with Moscow. They expressed their “vigilance” as for the financial, military aid or via the purchase of hydrocarbons that Beijing could bring to Russia but, at this stage, their entourage claims to have no tangible proof in this regard.

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To convince their interlocutors that it is in their interest to preserve a peaceful world and balanced relations with the EU, other arguments were needed. From an economic point of view, with a reminder: China exports some 462 billion worth of goods to Europe annually, ie some 15% of the total amount of its exports, while only 2.4% goes to Russia. Clearly, the proof of effective support for Moscow could have a cost for the Chinese economy. And, adds a Brussels diplomat, for President Xi, who will have to be re-elected in October.

On Wednesday, Sergei Lavrov, the head of Russian diplomacy, had on the other hand obtained, in Beijing, the affirmation of a “limitless” friendship between the two countries.

This 23and EU-China summit, convened before the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, obviously did not move any lines: the relationship between Europe and its “systemic rival and strategic competitor” – the formula dates from 2019 – is simply a little more complicated since the outbreak of the war. Brussels and Beijing may agree, according to Mr Michel, that the Ukrainian conflict is “a threat to global security and economy” but he received no real response to his invitation to China to involve it in the search for a solution. On Wednesday, Sergei Lavrov, the head of Russian diplomacy, had on the other hand obtained, in Beijing, the affirmation of a friendship ” limitless ” between the two countries.

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