Editorial of the “World”. European Union leaders wanted to try to pull out of their virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang on Friday 1er April, a commitment by China not to circumvent Western sanctions against Russia. They hit a wall. China has remained deaf to calls from Europe. The time for illusions, for those who still had some about Beijing’s attitude, is clearly over.
The discussion, indicated the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, who conducted it with the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, was “frank and open”, a diplomatic way of saying that she was unpleasant. The two parties exchanged, she pointed out, “Clearly opposing points of view”.
Beijing’s hastily published statements on the talks show no element of convergence other than the usual hollow formulations on the virtues of dialogue and peace. President Xi has acknowledged that the situation in Ukraine is “deeply regrettable” – no one can contradict him on this point. China, added Mr. Li, is against war, “hot or cold”, against the division of the world into blocks, and refuses to take sides. Beijing has pledged neither to use its influence with Moscow to end the war, nor to help Russia cushion the blow of Western sanctions.
“Friendship Without Limits”
This Chinese refusal should not be a surprise. Three weeks before the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin visited Beijing and signed an important joint declaration with President Xi, sealing a “boundless friendship”. It seems difficult to conceive that he did not at the time put his Chinese interlocutors in the confidence of at least part of his military intentions in Ukraine. The fact that the war did not start until after the end of the Winter Olympics in Beijing is probably not due to chance either. Finally, two days before the EU-China summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was received in Beijing by his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, who assured him that “China wanted to collaborate with Russia”. Then he went to India, where the government is also taking a very accommodating line vis-à-vis Moscow on Ukraine.
For the Europeans, who have the merit of having, this time, firmly held their positions – including on their solidarity with Lithuania, the target of retaliatory measures from Beijing – and clearly expressed their demands vis-à-vis the Chinese leaders, the time choice came. They must first prepare to draw the consequences of a possible more concrete cooperation of Beijing with Moscow on Ukraine: if China helps Russia to circumvent the sanctions, warned Ursula von der Leyen, this will have an impact on European investments in China. This warning, no doubt audible in Beijing at a time when the country is going through economic turbulence, must not go unheeded. But the effect will also be noticeable on European economies.
They must also be prepared to re-evaluate their strategy in the Indo-Pacific, in particular by betting more on Japan and South Korea, in light of the evolution of China’s and India’s relations with Russia. The shock wave of the war in Ukraine will not spare this region.