China and EU leaders meet as tensions over Russia rise

European Union leaders pressed China on the country’s trade imbalance with Europe and its support for Russia during a visit to Beijing on Thursday that highlighted growing tensions between the two sides.

The meeting between China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, and Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, was the first live summit of the leaders of China and the European Union in more four years old.

In her opening speech, von der Leyen told Xi that it was “essential to end Russian aggression against Ukraine.” She added that there are “clear imbalances and differences” that the two sides face on trade.

European leaders were should urgently China use its influence on Russia to end the war in Ukraine and withdraw its troops. They also intended to pressure China to prevent Russia from evading sanctions.

“On the European side, one of the main tasks of the Beijing summit is to clearly convey the message that China-Russia cooperation and its impact on the war in Ukraine remains the key element in shaping the future of EU-China relations”, Alicja Bachulska , a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said in an email.

No issue has frustrated European officials more than Beijing’s refusal to reduce its support for Moscow. China has aided Russia’s war effort by buying Russian oil and supplying the Kremlin’s military with microchips, drones and other equipment believed to fail short of weapons and ammunition.

Despite the negative reaction, it is highly unlikely that China will abandon Russia, calculating that it needs Moscow in the long term as a partner to counter US global dominance.

The summit was not expected to lead to significant progress. Trust between China and the European Union has been eroded by failed promises to open China’s market more to European businesses, as well as Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

China also believes that Europe is largely influenced by Beijing’s main competitor, the United States, and has sought to drive a wedge between the region and Washington. The war in Ukraine, however, has only strengthened the transatlantic alliance as Europe has become increasingly dependent on Washington for military aid.

The 27-member European bloc labeled Beijing a “strategic rival” and agreed in June to work to “de-risk” its supply chains by limiting their reliance on Chinese companies. The European Union has also aligned itself with the United States in adopting restrictions on trade in high-tech products with China.

These moves underscore the widening rift between the West and China as Xi has adopted a more assertive foreign policy aimed at reshaping the global order to serve Chinese interests.

According to an official report from China of Xi’s meeting with European leaders, Xi urged them to strengthen cooperation with China to strengthen “mutual political trust” and “eliminate all kinds of interference,” a tacit reference to Washington .

China has said the two sides are not rivals and that their common interests far outweigh their differences.

But tensions are also growing over cheaper Chinese electric vehicles, solar panels and wind turbines, which have flooded the European market.

Last year the region recorded a trade deficit with China of $426 billion, the largest on record. And as China’s economy spirals into a housing crisis, the country may look to boost exports as an engine of growth.

In September, the European Union formally launched an investigation into whether electric car makers in China have received government subsidies, a move that could result in tariffs. Electric vehicles are a particularly sensitive issue because car manufacturing plays a huge role in the European economy.

“Europe is open to competition, not a race to the bottom,” von der Leyen said earlier this year. “We must defend ourselves from unfair practices.”

China has rejected many of Europe’s complaints about the trade imbalance, saying a significant portion of the country’s exports to Europe come from European-owned companies based in China.

The success of China’s industry is the result of timely investment and innovation, not subsidies, said Tu Xinquan, dean of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics.

“There is a sense of crisis in the EU because the car industry is crucial for them,” he said.

European businesses also complain about reduced access to the Chinese market due to laws requiring foreign companies to use Chinese suppliers, and have expressed concerns about national security laws.

Keith Bradsher contributed to the reporting.