We can’t lose China, EU leaders say

We can’t lose China, EU leaders say
Опубликовано: Thursday, 23 March 2023 23:48

Xi Jinping’s blooming bromance with Vladimir Putin is freaking EU leaders out. Now they’re booking flights to Beijing.

BRUSSELS — European leaders are suddenly falling over each other to get to China.

Amid growing concern that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is hardening his support for Russia’s war in Ukraine, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez announced on Thursday he will fly to Beijing for talks next week. Emmanuel Macron, the French president, will follow on a longer-planned trip on April 4.

A succession of European Union leaders used a summit in Brussels to raise the alarm about China’s ostentatious backing for Vladimir Putin this week, warning that they could not stand by while Beijing and Moscow cement an alliance that risks tipping the world deeper into crisis.

Their concerns followed Xi’s high-profile trip to the Russian capital, which shored up the position of his longstanding friend, Putin.

During a private session in Brussels, Macron urged his colleagues to redouble their efforts to stop China from deepening its support for Russia’s invasion. “The French president underlined the need to make the utmost efforts to ensure that China does not support Russia and its capacity to move ahead with the war,” an EU official said.

The stakes in the shifting geopolitical dynamics could hardly be higher for Europe, or the wider world. A firmer partnership between China and Russia would risk escalating the Ukraine war into a conflict between NATO governments and Beijing, as well as Moscow.

Then there is the looming threat of a military clash between Beijing and Washington over Taiwan, which Western analysts say is at growing risk of invasion by Chinese forces.

Even without a military escalation, tensions are rising between Beijing and the West over security and trade. In recent weeks, a series of European governments have hit Chinese-owned social media company TikTok with restrictions, amid concern that Beijing’s dominance of technology poses a security risk to the West.

At the same time, EU governments are drawing up plans to limit their reliance on China for critical raw materials such as lithium for electric car batteries.

Speaking to media during the summit in Brussels, Latvian leader Krišjānis Kariņš described the Xi-Putin meeting in Moscow as “eye-opening for Europe.”

The meeting, he said, showed that “China is not taking the role of a broker [but is] moving overtly on the side of Russia and this is a difficulty for all of us.” Kariņš added that Beijing has the driving seat in its relationship with Russia, but it remains unclear where they want to drive this relationship.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson also expressed concerns over the possibility of China providing concrete support to Russia, according to two diplomats involved in the summit in Brussels.

Spain’s Sánchez, meanwhile, confirmed he would be meeting Xi in China next week. Spanish officials said he would discuss China’s position paper on Ukraine. Spain will take over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU from Sweden later this year.

While EU leaders raised fears over the closer Moscow-Beijing ties, there was no consensus in Brussels on whether the bloc as a whole should adopt a new approach to China.

Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel called for continued engagement with Beijing to try to bring the Chinese closer.

We might need China one day

"China is not perfect, but we might need it one day," one EU official said. "Several member states share this assessment."

Others, though, are seemingly in support of a tougher line on China given the latest situation.

Macron’s diplomatic adviser, Emmanuel Bonne, talked to top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi on Thursday. “China expects France and other European countries to play a part in … pursuing political resolution,” Wang said.

During his Moscow trip this week, Xi made no public promises of military support for Russia. However, U.S. officials have been warning of Beijing’s willingness to give lethal aid to Moscow. POLITICO reported that 1,000 assault rifles and other equipment that could be used for military purposes have been sent to Russia from Chinese companies.

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