China tells the EU that it will seek peace in Ukraine in its own way

  • The Russian invasion of Ukraine dominates the virtual summit
  • The first virtual EU-China summit since 2020
  • China’s Xi hopes for ‘independent’ EU

BRUSSELS/BEIJING (Reuters) – China offered the European Union on Friday assurances it would seek peace in Ukraine but said it would be on its own terms, moving away from pressure to take a tougher line on Russia.

Prime Minister Li Keqiang told EU leaders that Beijing would push for peace “in its own way,” while President Xi Jinping said he hoped the EU would treat China “independently,” a reference to the close ties between Europe and the United States.

During a virtual summit with Li and Xi, the European Union asked Beijing not to allow Moscow to get around Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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European Council President Charles Michel said at a press briefing with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen after the first EU-China summit since December 30, 2020.

“Any attempts to circumvent the sanctions or provide assistance to Russia will prolong the war,” he said.

China is working to forge closer energy, trade, and security ties with Moscow, and is positioning itself as a global power that can stand up to the United States. Several weeks before the February 24 invasion, China and Russia announced a “borderless” strategic partnership.

The official CCTV station reported that Li told EU leaders that China has always sought peace, strengthened negotiations, and is ready to continue to play a constructive role with the international community. CCTV also reported Xi’s comments on the EU’s independent policy. Read more

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Michel said the two sides agreed that the war, which Russia calls a “special military operation”, threatens global security and the global economy.

China has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine or describe it as an invasion, and has repeatedly criticized what it describes as illegal and unilateral Western sanctions.

Michel and von der Leyen described the tone of the summit as “open and frank,” while von der Leyen said trade between two of the world’s largest economies was much larger than economic ties between China and Russia.

An EU official said more than a quarter of China’s global trade was with the bloc and the United States last year, compared to just 2.4% with Russia.

A decisive moment

China is concerned that European countries are taking more hawkish foreign policy signals from Washington, and has called on the European Union to “rule out external interference” in its relations with China. In 2019, the EU suddenly switched from soft diplomatic language to describing China as a systemic competition.

The European Union, Britain and the United States imposed sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, prompting Beijing to retaliate, freezing an investment agreement already negotiated between the European Union and China.

Since then, China has also halted imports from Lithuania after the European Union’s Baltic state allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in its capital, angering Beijing, which considers the democratically governed island its territory. Read more

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Von der Leyen said Beijing needed to defend the international order that made China the world’s second largest economy. The West says Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a violation of the UN Charter.

“It’s a defining moment because nothing will be the same before the war,” she said. “Now it’s a matter of taking a very clear position to support and defend the rules-based order.”

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Additional reporting by Robin Emmott. Writing by Philip Blinkensop and Robin Emmott; Editing by Sandra Maller, William MacLean, Alexander Smith and William Mallard

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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