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The EU lands in Beijing to check China's intentions on the war in Ukraine


The Union believes that the Asian giant's peace proposal is biased towards Moscow, but assumes that the possibility of Xi using his influence with Putin should be explored

China, seeking to boost its role as international mediator, is courting the European Union to involve it in its peace plan for Russia's war in Ukraine.

And the EU, despite considering that the proposal is biased towards the Kremlin's positions, does not want to rule out Beijing and assumes that it is convenient to explore the possibility that Xi Jinping uses his influence with Vladimir Putin.

With this background scenario, the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, will disembark in China, together with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in early April to check Beijing's intentions after Xi's symbolic visit to Putin.

Before, next week, it will be the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, who travels to China.

The high representative for Foreign Policy and Defense, Josep Borrell, will go a little later.

The idea is to represent a "united European voice" in Beijing, Macron explained this Friday in Brussels.

However, the carousel of visits - which will carry the message that Ukraine, the country under attack, must be listened to - is dripping.

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Relations with China have long been a divisive element within the Union.

After Russia's war in Ukraine and with the proximity between Moscow and Beijing, China (which has not condemned the invasion) has become a point of tension.

There is no consensus position, so Brussels chooses to know the situation first hand at a crucial moment, since an EU-China summit is scheduled for the middle of this year.

There is also a reality on the table: with the Kremlin war, Europe has deepened its dependence on defense issues on the United States, which is experiencing a new cold war with China.

And another: that the Asian giant has eaten up a huge space in the European market and that it has become the main supplier of crucial technology and materials, something that the Union is now trying to redirect through regulation.

The red line of arms shipments

It is essential for the EU that China does not cross the red line by sending arms to Moscow.

The United States has warned that it may be one step away from doing so.

The European visits to Beijing also seek to prevent this step from taking place.

The positions in the community club are not fixed, but until now, Von der Leyen has represented a somewhat tougher wing and closer to the positions of Washington.

The Netherlands, France and Luxembourg are more in favor of opening up, albeit cautiously.

The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, who traveled to China at the end of last year, and who has tried to push in recent weeks to reopen the China-EU investment agreement, frozen by the European Parliament in 2021, maintains a similar current.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, at the EU summit, this Friday in Brussels. OLIVIER MATTHYS (AFP)

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who also ended the year with a trip to China, has been a traditional member of that softer group, but does not want to clash with US President Joe Biden.

Like the pragmatic Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, who points out that after analyzing the Chinese proposal, the next natural step is to wait for the planned call between Xi and the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelensky.

Ukraine has been quite secretive about the plan - the only proposal presented by a third party - from Beijing, its first trading partner since 2019. Other leaders such as Luiz Inácio Lula de Silva also plan to travel to China: the Brazilian president will do so this Sunday, after postponing the visit after being diagnosed with mild pneumonia.

Countries like Latvia, Lithuania or Sweden stress that the link between Xi and Putin must not be lost sight of, that China is not a neutral interlocutor and that it has its own interests on the geopolitical tableau surrounding the invasion of the Kremlin.

Not only strategic, but also economic.

China, with an economy 10 times the size of Russia's, is Moscow's number one trading partner and is benefiting from oil and resources at increasingly advantageous prices.

Both countries plan to increase their commercial cooperation by 30% to exceed 200,000 million dollars (about 186,000 million euros) and project greater energy cooperation in a decade.

Meanwhile, the yuan has already surpassed the dollar as the most traded currency on the Moscow Stock Exchange.

Also, with Western sanctions, Moscow has become even more dependent on things like importing electronics.

All this occurs while the ideological closeness against the West between both autocracies is great and they plan a world order that better suits their agendas.

“China is not assuming the role of a middleman [but] openly siding with Russia.

This is a difficulty for all of us”, the Prime Minister of Latvia, Krisjanis Karins, said these days at the summit of leaders of the Twenty-seven in Brussels.

With these wickerwork, the Chinese proposal for Ukraine is received: a 12-point plan that is not really a peace plan, because it makes no difference between the aggressor and the victimized, Borrell stresses in a conversation with a group of journalists, including EL PAÍS in Brussels.

“Putin talked about a peaceful solution and the Chinese plan and at the same time kept bombing.

I think China should use her influence to make Russia understand that this is not the way.

And let's hope it does, we must encourage it to do so, "says the head of European diplomacy.

Borrell points out that Beijing, on the one hand, is deepening its "friendship" with Russia — "a friendship that seems to have certain limitations," he points out — but on the other, it is not getting involved with military support.

"[China] can be a facilitator rather than a mediator," concludes the head of European diplomacy.

The Chinese plan calls for a ceasefire, an end to sanctions on Russia and respect for territorial integrity.

The latter is the only "savable" point not listed towards Moscow in the proposal, European diplomatic sources point out.

Putin, after his meetings with Xi, has said that the proposal can serve as the basis for launching the diplomatic path.

But while "territorial integrity" implies in Ukraine and the West the recognition of internationally recognized borders and that Moscow withdraws from Crimea and the rest of the occupied Ukrainian regions, the Kremlin observes that section through its own glasses, that of the referendums it organized to annex those territories: consultations carried out in occupied zones, with soldiers on the ground and not recognized internationally.

The EU seems to return with China to a situation similar to what it experienced with Russia before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, when the US warned that the situation was deteriorating and that everything could explode.

So, the Union initially opted to also go to talk with the source, Russia.

The parallelism is there, but that does not imply that the outcome is the same.

At the same time, China is courting the European Union with a diplomatic charm offensive.

For the moment, he has already softened his rhetoric and is using his role as a mediator for the restoration of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia as an example.

On Thursday, Macron's diplomatic adviser Emmanuel Bonne spoke with senior Chinese diplomat Wang Yi.

"China expects France and other European countries to play a role in seeking a political resolution," Wang said, adding that such peace talks and the political solution to the "crisis" should become the strategic consensus between China and Europe. .

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Source: elparis

All news articles on 2023-03-25

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