Xi to meet EU leaders virtually at key summit, to inject positive energy to world amid Ukraine crisis

Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to meet EU leaders at the China-EU leaders’ meeting on Friday during which the Ukraine crisis is expected to be one of the major topics, some Chinese experts said.

They also believe that China and Europe could find more common ground in handling the issue and not let the differences override the fundamental course of China-EU relations, considering the consensus reached by the two strategic partners and larger scope of global affairs that need the cooperation between them.

President Xi will meet EU leaders by video link on Friday, including European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Premier Li Keqiang will co-chair the meeting with Michel and Ursula von der Leyen via video, Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, announced on Wednesday.

Confronted with growing uncertainties in the current global situation, China and the EU should be the major powers to safeguard peace and push forward the joint development of the Chinese and European markets, Wang told a routine press conference.

The two sides need to enhance strategic communication and mutual trust, conduct dialogue on the basis of mutual respect and reciprocal benefits, and inject positive energy and stability to the global situation that has been seeing growing turbulence, he said.

The EU said it wants to put pressure on China “to be neutral with its stance” over Russia’s recent military operation in Ukraine, CNBC reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed sources. The goal of the summit is “ensuring, in a way, the neutrality of China so they don’t help Russia,” an EU official was quoted in the media report.

And another official also described the summit as a defining moment for EU-China relations and if China “aligns themselves with Russia that will obviously have a very negative impact on relations with the EU,” the official said, according to CNBC.

Chinese experts believe that it’s inappropriate to connect the Russia-Europe conflict with China-EU relations as the issue is not the problem that must be solved and tackled within the framework of China-EU relations but can only be considered as one factor affecting the relations. And the two sides agreed to hold this meeting as Europe has been heavily affected by the Ukraine crisis. It also underscored the willingness of the two sides to enhance cooperation rather than amplify the differences, experts said.

Containers are loaded onto a China-Europe freight train at Suifenhe, Northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province on Thursday. Including this train, 3,000 China-Europe cargo trains have passed through the port. As of Wednesday, 291,186 containers had been exported via the port. Photo: cnsphoto

A changing mindset

As the Ukraine crisis has stretched to over a month, the mindset of Europeans has also been changing from blindly following the US to starting to reflect on the deeper cause of this conflict, and the latest US-led sanctions further exposed the divided stances within the continent, Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

“This conflict makes them understand that they are all victims by falling into the trap of the US. For example, on the energy issue, they can’t always be tied up with the US and the Biden administration has its own calculations,” Wang said.

“The EU would probably still need to get in touch with Russia. Since its relations with Russia have been frayed, China could serve as a bridge to get in contact with Russia,” Wang noted.

US President Joe Biden wrapped up his visit to Europe during the weekend and he engaged in intense diplomatic events focusing on the Ukraine crisis. The US has been motivating the enhancement of sanctions on Russia, striving to prevent his European allies from falling back on this issue.

Ahead of the summit, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a video conference with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell Fontelles on Tuesday that exerting extreme sanctions only leads to the parties hurting each other, making the situation more complicated and further instigating the conflict. And the Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation does not work in Europe.

Wang Yi reiterated that China’s position is clear. “On the issue of war and peace, we stand on the side of peace. Between unilateral sanctions and dialogue and negotiations, we stand on the side of dialogue and negotiation. Between fanning the flames and putting out the fire, we stand on the side of putting out the fire. Time will prove that China’s position is responsible and will stand the test of history,” he told Borrell.

“I believe Europe can understand China’s stance as China has been an important strategic partner, and holding such a summit at this special occasion shows that the two sides hope to enhance cooperation,” Feng Zhongping, director of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

No matter how Europe’s China policy changes, from the perspective of the market scale, it hopes to further cooperate with China, Feng said, noting that there is also major consensus on the Ukraine issue, such as both sides are opposed to the war and hope for peace, and are willing to push forward dialogue and humanitarian assistance.

More consensuses

The Ukraine issue is a factor that could affect China-EU relations and what matters now is that the two sides should first reach a consensus on the issue, Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Cui noted that there have been some voices in Europe that try to link China’s position in the Ukraine crisis with the future of China-EU relations. But such connection is inappropriate as the Ukraine issue is not a problem that can be solved under the framework of China-EU relations.

He stressed that what China and the EU should do is to further clarify each other’s positions and find common concerns on this issue so that it won’t cause a negative impact on the normal and healthy development of bilateral relations.

Over the past year, there have been growing challenges in China-EU relations, especially after the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment was stalled by the unilateral freeze taken by the European Parliament last May and some anti-China MEPs visiting the island of Taiwan, which was also considered as serving the interests of the US.

However, economic and trade ties between the two remain strong and continue to expand in the face of complex geopolitics and rising tensions. In the first two months of 2022, the EU surpassed ASEAN as China’s biggest trading partner after losing the spot in 2021, as bilateral trade between China and the EU surged 14.8 percent year-on-year to reach $137.16 billion.

“China and the EU can work together in dealing with some of the impact of the Ukraine crisis and the sanctions that may bring to international order or the global economy by establishing pragmatic cooperation mechanisms, which will also benefit China-EU relations,” Cui said.

Chinese experts also expect the two sides to find more consensus, including the economic recovery in post-COVID-19, safeguarding the international and regional stability and multilateralism while China may raise concerns over the issue with Lithuania, and EU stances on questions such as Xinjiang, Taiwan, Tibet, Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

“We don’t have a very high expectation for the result of the summit, but the outcome will draw a contrast with Biden’s trip,” Wang said, noting that on Lithuania, the global food crisis, inflation and anti-terrorism, as long as the two sides elaborate on those issues, they would yield results.

Authors: Chen Qingqing, Wan Lin, Global Times

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