European Council President Charles Michel has called on Chinese leader Xi Jinping to put pressure on Russia to end the war in Ukraine. Michel emphasized in Beijing that China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, has a special responsibility to ensure compliance with the UN Charter.
Xi said talks should be held soon to end the conflict. “A political solution to the Ukraine crisis is in the interest of Europe and all countries in Eurasia,” Xi is said to have said, according to state media. “We must prevent escalation and work for peace.” Xi has previously called for an end to the war without criticizing Russia. In a conversation with Michel, Xi would have also reiterated that China does not supply Russia with weapons and that nuclear threats are not acceptable.
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The two leaders, Michel said, also talked about the demonstrations in recent days in China against the strict Covid lockdowns. Michel said he made Xi aware that the EU attaches great importance to the universal right to peaceful demonstrations. Michel also reiterated that European companies are ready to supply vaccines. “Yes, we discussed the demonstrations, as well as society’s acceptance of the authorities’ measures.[…] For the EU, the right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental right.”
Dialogue on human rights
It is not known how Xi reacted to this. However, the EU and China agreed to resume a regular dialogue on human rights. Negotiations broke down three years ago.
According to the state news agency Xinhua, Xi stressed that Europe should continue to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the Chinese market. China and the EU must “resist together [economische] don’t use decoupling and trade and technology as a political weapon.” Xi’s statement can be seen as a response to the call growing louder in Europe to avoid economic dependence on China.
China is also afraid that the EU is increasingly moving towards the USA, and that the Dutch manufacturer of, for example, chip machines ASML will then have less opportunity to supply China with high-quality technology. Now that the US wants to export less and less high technology to China, it becomes all the more important for China that EU countries continue to do so. China is therefore hammering the EU on the importance of strategic independence from the US.
Michel and Xi spoke for three hours. Judging by statements from the European side, the “open and honest” talks covered a wide range of topics, from the Russian invasion of Ukraine to the future of Taiwan, from the climate negotiations to the punitive measures between China and the EU. .
According to a statement from China’s Foreign Ministry, Xi took the visit mainly as a European show of goodwill towards China, and the statement also shows that Xi spent considerable time repeating what he said earlier during his speeches at the 20th Party Congress in October this year . Xi also stated that “there are no fundamental strategic differences or conflicts between China and the EU.”
In Brussels, the trip caused a sensation last week because there is a fixed pattern for consultations between the EU and China. Summits are usually well prepared and it is usual for Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Borrell to attend. Michel’s solo trip was not primarily about making detailed agreements, but about trying to resume relations with the newly appointed Chinese leader.
The relationship between the two powers is a minefield. Typical was the Chinese way of handling a video message that Michel had submitted to a financial fair in Shanghai. In his message, he mentioned a more balanced relationship. China refused to show that video. Formally, the EU sees China as a partner, economic competitor and strategic rival. But at a summit in the autumn, the EU’s heads of government emphasized competition and rivalry over cooperation.