Faced with a changed Europe, China sticks to an old handwriting

When European leaders recently press China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, to distance himself from Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, he s...


When European leaders recently press China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, to distance himself from Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, he stubbornly stuck to prepared remarks for the video summit, closing any openings to their demands.

Speaking of the grand Great Hall of the People, he stated that China, like her had for years, welcomed the European Union as a pillar of an emerging multipolar world. But Mr. Xi also made it clear that cajoling China about Russia was not the kind of assertiveness he wanted.

Their discussions were “open”, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, told reporters afterwardsbefore adding: “Open means that we exchanged very clearly opposing points of view.”

The awkward talks illustrated how China is struggling to weather the geopolitical shockwaves of war in Ukraine, and nowhere more so than in its relations with Europe.

For Chinese leaders, Europe was meant to be the softer wing of the Western world, without the military might or the will to challenge China’s rise. Now they risk missing out on the potentially profound implications of the war, as Europe reassesses its security needs and Beijing’s intentions.

In Europe, “the narrative is becoming: this is what you get if you deal nicely with authoritarian regimes,” said Ivana Karaskova, researcher in Chinese foreign policy at Charles University in Prague. “It’s not just about Russia; it is also about China.

In the longer term, Europe’s new focus on geopolitical risks and its closer ties with the United States could evolve into a more adversarial stance towards Mr. Xi’s government, especially if Beijing remains close to Russia and protects it from economic sanctions.

Shortly before Mr. Xi’s summit with European officials, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, told his Russian counterpartSergei Lavrov, that Beijing wanted to take relations with Russia to “a higher level”.

Europe is currently consumed by the crises created by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, including more than 4.6 million refugees. Many European governments have promised a drastic upgrade in military spending and preparedness. Politicians in Berlin, Paris and other capitals are already discussing the extent of their new vigilance towards China, as well as Russia.

“The European line on China has been hardening for five or six years, but I think we are entering a new phase”, Noah Barkin, a Berlin-based analyst for the Rhodium Group that monitors China’s relations with Europe, said in an interview. “There is a realization in Europe that China may no longer be a partner, that it may increasingly be seen as a threat.”

Chinese officials seem unsure how to react.

For years, Beijing has tried to bring Europe closer together as a trading and diplomatic partner, and has warned against aligning with Washington’s efforts to compensate China. Instead, Chinese officials argued, Europe could help protect the world from US domination, a particularly powerful message when the Trump administration disavowed the Paris climate accord and put tariffs on some European goods.

Yet even before the war, European disenchantment with Beijing was growing.

Members of the European Union and Britain were becoming increasingly critical of Chinese repressions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang; its growing trade surplus with Europe; and his pugnacious diplomacy about Taiwan, the self-governing island democracy that Beijing claims as its own. Last year, the European Parliament blocked a vast trade agreement with China, citing its human rights record, as well as its penalties on European legislators and academics.

“Communication from the Chinese side seems glued to an EU that no longer exists,” said Francesca Ghirettianalyst of Euro-Chinese relations at the Mercator Institute for Chinese Studies in Berlin.

“China seems unable to understand that the more assertive positioning the EU has developed is not the result of US pressure,” she said. “Now the differences between the EU and China are on fundamental issues. The response to Ukraine is a good example.

For its part, Beijing was angered by European sanctions on Xinjiang and Hong Kong, and the European Union designation in 2019 of China as an emerging “systemic rival” in security, while remaining a major market for European exporters and a partner against climate change and other global threats.

Chinese diplomats argue that Europe misinterpreted Xi’s intentions regarding the war in Ukraine, and that US enmity forced Beijing to move closer to Russia. Mr. Xi obliquely warned the European Union not to align itself further with Washington’s efforts to counter Chinese power.

“We hope the European side will form its own understanding of China and adhere to its own autonomous policies towards China,” he told European officials at the summit.

Responses faithful to Mr. Xi’s scenario on Ukraine may reflect worries that Europe expects too much from Beijing. Beijing needed to do better to explain that its influence over Mr Putin is limited and fragile, said Wang Yiweidirector of the Center for European Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, who sits on a government advisory committee.

“If China offended Russia, then no one could influence it,” Wang said in an interview. Others, he said, shouldn’t view China “as if it’s someone who can just give Putin a call and then he’ll stop.”

China may yet be able to prevent the European Union from taking a much tougher line against Beijing.

China and the European Union are for each other biggest trading partners, and Beijing could rely on countries that rely heavily on Chinese consumers, especially Europe’s largest economy, Germany. It could put pressure on countries like Hungary and Greecewho have previously thwarted proposed EU statements critical of Beijing.

Wang, the academic, said the sanctions against Russia will also hurt European countries. This will likely discourage measures that could antagonize China with its huge market, as it risks causing further economic damage and political turmoil across Europe.

“The most important thing is not how China balances things with them. What is most important is that when their own sanctions hurt each other, they fracture internally,” he said. “Europe will slowly understand China’s position.”

So far, however, Chinese diplomacy is not winning friends in Europe.

Since the invasion, Chinese diplomats have told their European counterparts that Europe was acting like a puppet of the Biden administration by aligning itself so firmly against Russia, four said. European officials aware of the discussions. They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the private interviews.

Chinese state media echoed the criticism.

“The United States has pushed Europe into a dangerous situation,” said a remark last month on Europe’s response to the war in Ukraine by China’s main official news agency, Xinhua.

“Europe must be careful not to be stabbed in the back by America”, says another comment broadcast by China’s main television broadcaster, CCTV.

The portrayal of Europe as Washington’s passive subordinate reflects the Chinese Communist Party’s strategy of insisting that the United States provoked the war in Ukraine by endangering Russian security. But the message angered European officials.

“We condemn Russian aggression against Ukraine and support Ukraine’s sovereignty and democracy, not because we ‘blindly follow the United States’, as China sometimes suggests, but because it is truly our own position,” said Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. written this month. “It was an important message for Chinese leaders to hear.”

In 2014, Xi signaled his hopes for strong ties with the European Union by becoming the first chinese president visit Brussels for their annual summit. “China is ready to work with the EU to let the sun of peace cast out the shadow of war,” Xi said in a statement that year. speech at the College of Europe.

But at his last summit with the European Union, Xi avoided using the word “war”. He called the Russian invasion a “crisis” or a “situation”, said two of the European officials briefed on the talks. Mr Xi argued that the sanctions against Russia – by implication, not the invasion itself – were largely responsible for the rise in energy and food prices around the world, they said. declared.

“The Ukraine crisis must be handled properly, but we must not turn to reckless remedies out of desperation,” Xi said, according to China official summary talks. “The world cannot be bound by this issue.”

European leaders seemed unimpressed. There were no joint statements or encouraging investment announcements for this summit.

“Dialogue was anything but dialogue,” said EU foreign policy chief Borrell. said in a speech after the top. “We couldn’t talk much about Ukraine, but we didn’t agree on anything else.”

Additional reporting by Claire Fu and Liu Yi.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Faced with a changed Europe, China sticks to an old handwriting
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