As Russia’s insistence that its European customers pay for their gas in rubles has shown, the EU simply doesn’t have the leverage to try and force Moscow to scale back its military efforts in Ukraine (in fact, as we noted earlier, European powers can’t even agree on a negotiation strategy for President Zelensky, as London pushes him to hold out while Paris and Berlin are more inclined toward a settlement).
But this hasn’t stopped the high-minded bureaucrats from Brussels from trying to lean on other world powers for help. Case in point, during a call with Beijing on Friday, senior EU officials including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen chided President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang about Beijing’s efforts to try and talk Moscow down, which they see as severely lacking.
According to Bloomberg, these comments were made during a virtual summit on Friday.
“We expect China, if not supporting the sanctions, at least to do everything not to interfere in any kind,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told reporters after the meeting. “On that point we were very clear.” She added that the EU expected China to use its influence on Russia to end to the war.
During the Friday conference, von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel attempted to do the impossible: convey a “stern” warning about Beijing’s record on human rights, while underlining the importance of continued re-engagement and cooperation between the two world powers.
Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel held separate sessions by videoconference with Chinese President Xi Jinping and its prime minister, Li Keqiang on Friday where they discussed the war in Ukraine, as well as a series of trade and human-rights issues.
The long-scheduled summit was an important opportunity for EU leaders to set out their expectations for Beijing, which has sought to avoid taking a clear position on the invasion. But it’s not clear that they won any new commitments from China on Ukraine.
Europe is trying to strike a difficult balance: giving China a stern warning over Ukraine, human rights and trade issues, while still trying to maintain the EU’s objective of re-engaging with the Asian giant.
Unsurprisingly, this strategy didn’t yield much in terms of results.
“We called on China to help end the war in Ukraine,” Michel said at a news conference in Brussels. “China cannot turn a blind eye to Russia’s violation of international law.”
After the summit, Premier Li responded to the EU’s pressure campaign by insisting that Beijing has been working to promote peace “in its own way”. Li stressed that China follows an independent foreign policy, working to settle disagreements and conflicts through dialogue and negotiation: “China has been promoting talks for peace in its own way, and will continue to work with the EU and the international community to play a constructive role for early easing of the situation, cessation of hostilities, prevention of a larger-scale humanitarian crisis, and the return of peace at an early date,” Li said.