Will China work with the EU to stop Russia’s war in Ukraine?

China is ready to work with France on obtaining a negotiated end to the Russia-Ukraine war, a French diplomatic source said to Reuters after French President Emmanuel Macron held talks with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

“The President and Xi agreed to “work hard” to accelerate the end of the war and to obtain that a negotiation opens in the full respect of international law,” a French diplomatic source said to Reuters.

Photo credit: AFP.com

Xi is ready to call Zelensky

Following his meeting with Emmanuel Macron, Xi called on Ukraine and Russia to resume peace negotiations and find a political solution to the war, echoing China’s long-standing position on the ongoing conflict.

The French diplomatic source did not say whether China had changed its position, but it did say the two countries had agreed to undertake more talks.

According to the source, Xi also confirmed that he was willing to phone Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

French President Emmanuel Macron called on the Chinese leader Xi Jinping to “bring Russia to its senses” over its war against Ukraine and urged him not to deliver weapons to Moscow.

Xi’s evasive language on Russia’s war

On the other hand, Chinese President Xi Jinping showed little sign of changing his position over Russia’s war. He took his long-standing line on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying that “all sides” have “reasonable security concerns”, Xi said.

“Peace talks should be resumed as soon as possible, taking into account the reasonable security concerns of all sides regarding the U.N. Charter … seeking political resolution and constructing a balanced, effective and sustainable European security framework,” Xi declared, sitting next to Macron. However, the Chinese leader Xi did not condemn Russia’s illegal occupation of territories of Ukraine, which goes against the UN Charter.

Macron’s mission to dissuade China from supporting Russia’s war

French President Emmanuel Macron aimed to dissuade China from supporting Russia’s war against Ukraine.

The French President arrived in China hoping to persuade Beijing to utilize its influence on Russia to stop the war and get Beijing to speak out against the Kremlin’s plan to host nuclear missiles in Belarus.

According to a French diplomat with knowledge of the talks, Macron expressed Western concerns that Beijing will send weapons to Russia during his private meeting with Xi.

“The President urged Xi not to make deliveries to Russia that would help its war against Ukraine. Xi said this war is not his,” the diplomat said, speaking anonymously to describe the private session.

The Chinese leader appeared uneasy as the French President addressed him directly, elaborating on the Ukraine war and their shared obligation to maintain peace. Macron also urged Xi to criticize Russia’s assault against Ukraine. 

“Talking about peace and stability means discussing Russia’s war against Ukraine. You’ve made some significant remarks,” the French President said. “This is a war in which we are all involved because a member of the Security Council has decided to violate the United Nations Charter. That is not acceptable to us.”

Is China supporting Russia?

Xi recently went to Moscow to reaffirm his alliance with the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, now wanted by the International Criminal Court. Xi’s talks with Putin were framed as anti-Western.

Emmanuel Macron stated that China could play a “major role” in finding peace in the Russia-Ukraine war and welcomed China’s “willingness to commit to a resolution”.

It was the first visit of the French President to China since 2019. It came as Western pressure mounted on China to help push for peace in Ukraine and stand against Russia’s illegal war.

China has been willing to work with Russia and buy its abundant oil and gas – albeit at a significant discount. Since the war, it has increased imports of Russian fuel.

China is officially neutral while supporting the territorial integrity of Ukraine. But at the same time, Xi has never condemned Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

How does the Chinese economy benefit from anti-Russia sanctions?

China increased purchases of Russian oil and gas in the year since Russia invaded Ukraine. The energy relationship between the two countries was vital for the Xi-Putin talks. China makes the most of Russia’s war impact to the benefit of the Chinese economy.

According to a Reuter’s fact sheet, Russia’s Gazprom supplies natural gas to China through a 3,000-kilometer pipeline called Power of Siberia under a $400 billion deal for 30 years launched at the end of 2019. 

In 2022 Russian gas exports to China amounted to about 15.5 billion cubic meters. They are planned to increase to 22 bcm in 2023 and reach a total capacity of 38 bcm by 2027. 

In February 2022, China agreed to buy up to 10 bcm of Russian gas annually by around 2026 via a pipeline from Russia’s far east island of Sakhalin.

Since the start of Russia’s war on Ukraine in February 2022, volumes of Russian gas exports to Europe have shrunk, falling to about 62 bcm in 2022.

Concerning crude oil, in 2022, Russia remained China’s second-largest source after Saudi Arabia. Chinese refiners took advantage of low-cost Russian barrels shunned by Western countries after Russia invaded Ukraine. Reuters estimated that China saved some $5 billion last year through these discounts.

The West expects China to condemn Russia’s war

Although in the West, the politicians understand China’s will to profit from Russia’s war and anti-Russian sanctions for its economy, they pressure Beijing to use its influence on the Russian regime to stop the war in Ukraine. Unlike China, Europe feels the negative consequences of the war, which is going on on the European continent.

The U.S. and the E.U. understand that without China’s support and funds from energy exports to China, Russia is deemed to have a prompt fall, which will lead to a defeat in the war of aggression against Ukraine.

There is a more significant threat that worries the West. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the U.S. has “picked up information over the last couple of months that strongly indicates that China is now considering” giving lethal aid. That’s why dissuading Beijing from this dangerous step was one of the goals of Macron’s visit to China.

At the same time, Emmanuel Macron is eager to be shown as a mediator and peacemaker in the geopolitical arena. The French President was the Western leader who spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin most often in the lead-up to Moscow’s full-scale war against Ukraine. 

In February 2022, he didn’t succeed, and the talks did not prevent the Kremlin from launching a full-scale invasion. Might Macron’s diplomatic efforts in April 2023 succeed and help to stop the war? We will see in the coming months.

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