July 20. 2024. 11:52

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China has not crossed any red lines for us yet, EU’s top diplomat says

China has not crossed any red lines in terms of supplying arms to Russia and wants to “minimise the risk of being associated with Russian military activities”, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told several European media, including EURACTIV.

Borrell also confirmed on Friday (24 March) he will soon pay an official visit to China to discuss, among other things, Russia’s war in Ukraine, but did not give a concrete date for the trip.

Following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s trip to Moscow this week, several European leaders will be travelling to Beijing soon.

Spain’s President Pedro Sánchez is expected to be there next week, French President Emmanuel Macron will go to Beijing in two weeks jointly with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, while Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni also has a standing invitation.

The EU side is, meanwhile, preparing to finalise plans for the next EU-China summit in Beijing, likely to take place before summer and after an EU-US summit, EU officials say.

“The Chinese want to play a diplomatic role, they don’t want to be totally associated with Moscow’s military actions,” Borrell said, adding Beijing would have an interest “to appear as a facilitator, not a mediator.”

In February, China released a 12-point paper calling for urgent peace talks and a “political settlement” to the war, which was positively received by Moscow but met with Western hesitation.

Asked about the peace plan, Borrell repeated a previous assessment that the plan was “a compilation of the very well-known position of China” but “not a peace plan”.

“Putin has been speaking about peaceful settlement and at the same time continues bombing – China has to use its influence in order to make Russia understand that it will go nowhere,” Borrell said.

Borrell’s comments came amid growing concern in the West about Beijing’s deepening relationship with Moscow, underscored by its refusal to condemn the Kremlin’s aggression against Ukraine, and the Chinese president’s visit to Moscow for a two-day summit with Vladimir Putin this week.

‘Some limits’

Despite the friendly pictures of Xi and Putin in Moscow, Borrell said his understanding was that “China is not willing to take a side” and “Beijing wants to minimise the risk of being associated with Russian military activities”.

“The Chinese do not want to appear fully aligned with Russia – they are very uncomfortable with what’s happening,” Borrell said.

“This unlimited friendship seems to have some limits,” he added.

China, for its part, has denied any intention to arm Russia.

“China has not crossed any red lines for us,” Borrell said when asked again whether he had seen any evidence of China supplying arms to Russia.

“They’re not doing that, and that’s what we’re watching.”

EU expected to take a tougher stance on China

The EU should view China primarily as a competitor with limited areas of potential engagement, the bloc’s foreign ministers have been advised by the EU’s diplomatic service ahead of talks about the state of play of the relations with Beijing on Monday (17 October).

The West has been wary of China’s response to the Ukraine war, with some officials warning that a potential Russian victory could shape China’s plans for Taiwan.

Borrell explained that Bejing’s partnership with Moscow “is diplomatic and economic, but they have never developed a military alliance. So it seems to me that China doesn’t want to be in a situation where Ukraine can be mixed with the Taiwan issue”.

Instead, he said, Beijing would be looking more towards diplomatic successes, citing its role in a recent re-establishment of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia, after years of hostility threatened stability and security in the Gulf and helped fuel conflicts in the Middle East from Yemen to Syria.

The deal, brokered by China, was announced after four days of previously undisclosed talks in Beijing between top security officials from the two rival Middle East powers.

Responding to a question about the risk that Beijing might be motivated to support efforts to keep Russia’s war in Ukraine going for economic gains, Borrell said “China is taking advantage of the situation, India too”.

“You cannot expect China to stop buying Russian oil,” he added.

He also said Xi’s recent trip to Moscow had reduced the chance that Putin will use nuclear weapons.

“One important thing is this visit reduces the risk of nuclear war and they [the Chinese] have made it very, very clear,” Borrell said.

“Xi wants to minimise the risk of being associated with the Russian military intervention,” he added. “They are not engaged militarily and there is no sign that they want to engage militarily.”

In recent weeks, Washington has been sounding out close allies about the possibility of imposing new sanctions on Beijing if it opted to provide military support to Russia for its war in Ukraine.

Europe-US-China triangle

Asked what would be Europe’s policy towards China, after the US asked Europeans to adopt a tougher stance, Borrell said that since the start of his mandate, he has pushed for a “Sinatra doctrine” in the bloc’s relations with Beijing.

With Washington’s increasingly tough stance on Beijing, the primary concern of the EU and its member states in recent years has been to avoid being sucked into a superpower struggle between the two.

According to Borrell, the situation has become more complicated with the current war “but the way the Europe-US-China triangle will interact will determine this century”.

“Europe will never be equidistant with Washington, because we share the same economic model,” he said, but added that “one thing is not to be equidistant, the other is to understand that we have our own interests.”