No joint declaration, showing that something has changed. Thus ended, as expected, the summit between the European Union and China held today (Friday 1 April, ed), one week after the visit to Brussels of US President Joe Biden for the NATO and G7 summits and to participate to the European Council.
As we recalled in recent days on, there are now many disputes between the two parties: the Chinese sanctions against the European Parliament, the Chinese retaliation against Lithuania and the freezing of the investment agreement signed at the end of 2020.
Lastly, Ukraine. We must start from the conclusions of that European Council to understand today’s appointment and the absence of a joint declaration. Last week, the 27 had discussed “relations with China in the new global context, in particular the Russian military aggression against Ukraine”. The invasion of Ukraine is a watershed, European leaders have made it clear. As told on, the key phrase is the “new global context”, which is the result of Vladimir Putin ‘s war and a consequent strengthening of the transatlantic axis, certified by the various agreements, from gas to data, reached during the Biden’s visit to Brussels.
With that trip, the president wanted, among other things, to make sure that the US and the EU were on the same length when it comes to China. The exact opposite of what Chinese President Xi Jinping hopes , who today invited the European Union – for the umpteenth time – to adopt an “autonomous” policy on China, where autonomous for Beijing means detached from its historic ally across the Atlantic . This wish was declared by the Chinese leader and made known through the regime’s media while the summit was still in progress: it is half a novelty in Beijing’s communication strategy, given that this tactic has already been used recently for the conversation between Xi and Biden.
Today’s summit was scheduled before the Russian invasion which, however, as mentioned, has changed the cards: now Washington is asking Brussels to use its economic lever (the European Union is the first trading partner and the first destination for exports China) to push Beijing not to offer support of any kind to Moscow and to commit diplomatically to end hostilities. All this, in order to avoid – and the risk feared by the West – that China will end up dragged down by Russia into international isolation given the Sinorussian declaration of 4 February which affirmed the “unlimited” partnership in open challenge to the international order based on the rules.
However, the only consequences that the European Union (like the United States) seems to want to threaten China are, at least for now, of a political or reputational nature: no economic retaliation or sanctions in case of support for Russia’s attempts to circumvent Western restrictions, for example.
This is why the United States followed with great interest today’s videoconference summit, the 23rd between the European Union and China, which was divided into two sessions: during the first, in the morning in Brussels which lasted just under two hours, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel , Presidents of the European Commission and of the European Council, accompanied by the High Representative for Foreign Security Policy Josep Borrell, met with Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang ; for the second, in the afternoon, President Xi joined for less than an hour of conversation. In total less than three hours, confirming the low expectations recorded on the eve.
The summit went “as we expected” and is “the perfect representation of the relationship”, comments Francesca Ghiretti, analyst of the German study center Merics, to “China mainly wanted to focus on three things: maintaining a channel of communication with the European Union, trying to cultivate a positive agenda that included an attempt to distance the European Union from the United States, and weighing what this new Union meant. geopolitical European Union ”, he explains. The European Union, on the other hand, wanted “to use the summit to cultivate a difficult relationship, but above all to talk about Ukraine”.
The two different agendas confirm the low expectations that existed before the meeting. “The space for dialogue is shrinking”, Ghiretti observes. “But despite this, the European Union and China want to continue talking”.
The bottom line of the leaders of the European Union at the table today with their Chinese counterparts was this: in the last three decades China has benefited economically from the system of international rules now threatened by Putin, so it should side with the European Union. “Equidistance is not enough” because “this is not a conflict but a war”, von der Leyen said at a press conference. “China cannot close its eyes to Russia’s violations of international law,” said Michel instead.
But Prime Minister Li reiterated during the meeting that China cannot be forced to choose a side and rejects the Cold War mentality with opposing blocs – another exercise in Beijing’s ambiguity if you think about the aforementioned pact with Moscow. . Furthermore, it is the same Sinorussian agreement that seems to suggest that today, also thanks to Russian weakness, Chinese interests could be more geopolitical than economic.
“Finally the European Union seems to understand that it is not only the European Union that is economically dependent on China, but also China on the European Union,” says Ghiretti. “So, use this addiction to try to get China not to help Russia. But it is clear that this is because the European Union is supported by the United States in doing this. If there are threats and economic costs at stake, it is necessary to move together not only for credibility but because the European Union alone would not do it. At least, not yet, ”she continues.
China “is well aware of how important the European market (and also the American one of course) is for its economy and for this reason, although it condemns the sanctions, for now it is largely respecting them”, he adds. Politics is getting the better of economic considerations in China at this stage, explains the expert. But “the economic risks at the moment are such that the economy must play an important role. Between the return of the pandemic, possible inflation following the war and instability due to sanctions, China is in trouble. Especially having announced the 5% growth target and with Congress this fall. By then, everything must be stable and solid. Hence the importance of finding a solution to the war and above all not losing the relationship with the European Union ”, concludes Ghiretti.

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