China will have to explain itself, without much hope of convincing the Europeans. “We want to hear them tell us why they support the Russians and we will warn them against delivering Chinese weapons to the Russians,” said a European diplomat in Brussels on the eve of the China-European Union summit to be held by videoconference on Friday 1er April. European officials will meet in the morning with Prime Minister Li Keqiang, and in the afternoon with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.
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The war in Ukraine will be at the heart of these exchanges, even if China would rather have liked to talk about the Global Agreement on Investments (GIA), suspended in the fall of 2020 by the EU because of human rights violations in the Xinjiang and Beijing’s economic retaliation against a member country, Lithuania, because of its close ties with Taiwan.
In this context of military tension in Europe, the leaders of the EU will increase their pressure on Beijing so that China “Helps to stop this war” trying to convince Vladimir Putin. “In this war, there can be no pseudo-neutrality,” assured Nicolas Chapuis, the European representative in Beijing, a few days before this summit. “That’s what China needs to understand. »
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However, the Chinese position has not changed since the start of the conflict on February 24. While Beijing has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and abstained in the UN Security Council, China finds itself trapped between its Russian ally, its Ukrainian partner whose territorial sovereignty has been violated, but also the European Union, its main trading partner, ahead of the United States.
“The danger would be to see China “overselling” its neutrality to the Europeans in the Ukrainian conflictwarns Valérie Niquet, China specialist at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), in order to obtain concessions such as the resumption of negotiations on the investment agreement. » According to this expert, “China is not ready to die or suffer sanctions for Moscow”.
Yet to this day, China persists in publicly supporting its Russian ally. “The Sino-Russian cooperation is limitless. Our pursuit of peace is limitless, our defense of security is limitless, our opposition to hegemony is limitless,” listed a spokesman for Chinese diplomacy, Wednesday, March 30, the day after the meeting in China between the head of Russian diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi. Not enough to reassure Europeans, who have understood for two years the “threat” that China represents in the new world order.
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The last annual EU-China summit was already tense, due to the repression in Hong Kong and the epidemic of Covid-19 appearing in China. It was in 2020. The one in 2021 had simply been canceled because of human rights violations against Uyghurs in Xinjiang. What could have been, this year, a summit of “rapprochement” between the two European and Chinese powers risks, on the contrary, widening the diplomatic and economic gap because of the Russian war in Ukraine.
In Beijing as in Brussels, we do not expect sensational announcements. China will repeat its speech of pseudo-neutrality, and the European Union will set limits not to be crossed. As proof, at the end of the summit, there will be no joint press release.