Chinese President Xi Jinping and French President Emmanuel Macron are meeting this week.
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European officials are visiting China in hopes of persuading Beijing to denounce Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and cool its recent kinship with the Kremlin.
The 27-member bloc is walking a tightrope, seeking to develop economic ties with China but also reaffirming a close political and cultural relationship with the United States. This has become particularly difficult with the intensification of the US administration’s anti-Beijing rhetoric and, even more so, following Russia’s invasion of its neighbor.
“It is clear that our relations have become more distant and more difficult in recent years,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, in a speech Thursday before her trip to Beijing this week.
“We have been seeing a very deliberate hardening of China’s overall strategic posture for some time now. And that is now being accompanied by an increase in increasingly assertive actions,” she added.
Von der Leyen is traveling to Beijing this week alongside French President Emmanuel Macron. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met Chinese President Xi Jinping last week. Europe’s top foreign affairs diplomat, Josep Borrell, will visit China next week.
“Many Europeans [are] go to China,” Borrell said Tuesday, adding that they had a clear message.
“His position on Russia’s atrocities and war crimes will determine the quality of our relationship with Beijing. In the meantime, the European Union remains united and our transatlantic community also remains united,” he said.
China has not condemned Russia’s assault on Ukraine. During a visit to Moscow in March, Chinese leader Xi Jinping called his Russian counterpart a dear friend.
Relations between the United States and the European Union have never been stronger.
US Secretary of State
Beijing in February proposed a 12-point peace plan for the war in Ukraine. The plan does not specify whether Russia must leave Ukrainian territory for a deal to be reached. Ukraine has made it clear that it will not agree to any peace deal that does not involve regaining full control of its territory, including Crimea which the Kremlin annexed in 2014.
“Europe has converged a lot towards the position of the United States,” Bruegel researcher Niclas Poitiers told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday, adding that Brussels wants to reduce dependencies on China. . The EU was heavily dependent on Russia for energy and now wants to avoid similar mistakes with other parts of the world.
“Overall, there is a consensus that we need to do something about our overreliance on China and ensure that they don’t blackmail smaller member states,” Poitiers said. .
A recent example of increased US-EU convergence is the Dutch decision to impose export restrictions on China, following a US decision to limit Beijing’s access to the most advanced microchip production.
In addition, the United States also became Europe’s main supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) last year as the bloc sought to phase out Russian hydrocarbons.
There is also increased, albeit natural, cooperation between EU countries and the United States on security issues, given that most of them are also members of NATO.
“Relations between the United States and the European Union have never been stronger or more important to advancing our common interests,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Brussels on Tuesday.
Blinken is meeting with his NATO counterparts this week, where they will discuss additional support for Ukraine as well as increased financial contributions to the military alliance.
But getting closer to the United States is not an easy decision for European leaders. In 2022, China was the EU’s largest source of imports and the EU’s third-largest buyer of goods, underscoring Beijing’s economic importance to Europe. This is particularly relevant when economic growth in the EU is vulnerable to the ongoing war in Ukraine.