This is not a paywall.

Register for free to continue reading.

The news sucks. But your reading experience doesn't have to. Help us improve that for you by registering for free.

Please create a password or click to receive a login link.

Please enter your password or get a login link if you’ve forgotten

Open Sesame! Thanks for registering.

First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

We write for you

It’s a public service and we refuse to erect a paywall and force you to pay for truth. Instead, we ask (nicely and often) that those of you who can afford to, become a Maverick Insider and help with whatever you can. In order for truth not to become a thing of the past, we need to keep going.

Currently, 18,000 (or less than 0.3%) of our brave and generous readers are members; which says a lot about their characters and commitment to our country. These people are paying for a free service in order to keep it free for everyone.

They are the true South AfriCANs.(Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves.)

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Xi’s Europe Outreach Aims to Avert East-West Clash Fo...

Business Maverick

Business Maverick

Xi’s Europe Outreach Aims to Avert East-West Clash For China

French President Emmanuel Macron attends a video-conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the Ukraine crisis, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on March 8, 2022. Photographer: Benoit Tessier/AFP/Getty Images
By Bloomberg
10 Mar 2022 0

A flurry of diplomatic calls between Beijing and European capitals shows how President Xi Jinping is trying to keep Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from dragging China into the center of another struggle for global supremacy reminiscent of the Cold War. 

Xi spoke via video link Tuesday with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, suggesting China would be willing to work with the two countries to mediate a solution. The summit follows Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s calls with top regional diplomats including Josep Borrell of the European Union and Peter Szijjarto of Hungary.

The outreach to Brussels was consistent with China’s approach before the war of courting stronger European ties to balance Washington’s efforts to build a more united front against Beijing and Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine has made that challenge more urgent, leading even some of Europe’s most dovish leaders to suddenly embrace U.S.-led sanctions campaigns and demands for greater military spending.

“It is a critical moment for Europe-China relations,” said Noah Barkin, an expert on Europe-China relations at U.S. research firm Rhodium Group. “If Beijing stays on the sidelines and continues to blame the U.S. and NATO for provoking Putin, then this could do lasting damage to its relationship with Europe. The democracies-versus-authoritarians narrative will take hold. China and Russia will be seen as a common threat.”

China and Russia have grown closer as they’ve found themselves increasingly locked in parallel battles with the U.S. over spheres of influence and what Washington sees as the erosion of postwar liberal norms. That process culminated last month with a Xi-Putin summit in Beijing, at which the Chinese leader endorsed Russian grievances with NATO and declared their relationship to have “no limits.”

China’s Fears of an Indo-Pacific NATO Are More Myth Than Reality

Russia’s subsequent invasion left Xi in a tough spot, needing to preserve ties with Putin without alienating Europe, where the attack on Ukraine is widely viewed as an attack on itself. China has so far sought to maintain a neutral position, urging dialogue and the protection of civilians while blaming the U.S. for fomenting the conflict and abstaining from United Nations votes condemning Russia.

Xi continued that approach in his summit with Macron and Scholz, saying the “Chinese side is deeply grieved by the outbreak of war again” in Europe, according to a Foreign Ministry summary. “The pressing task at the moment is to prevent the tense situation from escalating or even running out of control,” Xi said, citing concerns about energy, supply chains and the post-pandemic recovery.

China Tensions Spill Over as Europe Moves Toward Biden’s Side 

“Europe is now more reliant on the U.S. for energy and security,” said Wang Yiwei, a former Chinese diplomat and director of Renmin University’s Institute of International Affairs. “That’s not something Europe wants. So that’s why Xi said China supports Europe’s strategic autonomy.”

While Xi has spoken with Putin and Macron since the invasion began, he hasn’t spoken with U.S. President Joe Biden or U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the remaining two permanent members of the UN Security Council. He also hasn’t talked with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, although foreign ministers from the two countries have spoken.

China’s strong ties with Ukraine — including its status as the country’s second-largest trading partner behind the EU in 2020 — have led some in Europe including Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba to urge Beijing to mediate. Moscow’s dependence on Beijing to offset sanctions appears to give Xi a bit of leverage: Putin opened talks with Zelenskiy shortly after the Chinese and Russian leaders spoke, though they went nowhere.

China as Mediator?

China hasn’t yet embraced a mediation role in the crisis, which carries both risk and rewards. “Beijing will not want to increase its exposure to the conflict, and its view of the U.S. and NATO as adversaries will prevent it from aligning positions with the West,” said Helena Legarda, lead analyst at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies.

Successful negotiations, however, could improve views of China as a responsible global leader, while failure could further entangle it in the centuries-old security disputes of Europe.

Instead, Xi told Macron and Scholz that China supported “an equal-footed” security dialogue between the EU, Russia, the U.S. and NATO, a framework that emphasized Brussels’s autonomy from Washington. China has sought return to the Minsk agreements that helped ease the first flareup in fighting between Russia and Ukraine, a process that excluded the U.S.

“It’s not in the Chinese interest to have the EU and the United States get too close together, and the longer this war lasts, the closer the EU and the U.S. will move,” said Wolfgang Roehr, a former German diplomat in China and senior research fellow at the German Studies Centre at Tongji University in Shanghai. “I don’t think that’s in China’s interest, and the Europeans know that.”


Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

No Comments, yet

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted