China Can't Close Its Eyes to Russia's War in Ukraine—EU Official

China's Xi Jinping appears to have dashed the European Union's hopes that his country will play a meaningful role in stopping Russia's war against Ukraine, after one senior EU official described a recent summit with the Chinese president as a "dialogue of the deaf."

During a plenary session of the European Parliament on Tuesday, the EU's foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, painted a bleak picture of a recent high-level summit between leaders in Brussels and Beijing.

His summary depicted lengthy talks that ultimately led nowhere, as the two sides failed to see eye to eye on Ukraine and wished to discuss different subjects. "Given China's increasing assertiveness both at home and abroad, it's clear that we don't share the same political values," Borrell told European lawmakers in Strasbourg, France.

"China has an ambiguous position on this war, which requires us to put plain facts on the table, and to press China to do all within its power to be part of the solution to end the war. That was our primary goal, in a dialogue which was anything but a dialogue.

"In any case, it was a deaf dialogue."

Six weeks into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, China's position remains that it's not a party to the conflict and that it's playing a constructive role by focusing on humanitarian matters while ostensibly leaving politics at the door. Many, including Ukraine, had openly expressed a desire for Beijing to use its relationship with Moscow to stop Vladimir Putin's military campaign, instead of providing the Kremlin with political cover.

"It has to be China," the EU's Borrell told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo in early March. "Who else?" Only the Chinese leadership could help broker peace between Russia and Ukraine, he said at the time. Analysts note that Borrell's pressure had value in demonstrating both his efforts to lobby Beijing and also China's apparent inaction despite international calls to do something.

Borrell's assessment belied the Chinese government's representation of the April 1 talks as having helped both sides "[increase] mutual understanding and [reach] common understandings in many areas." The Chinese Foreign Ministry released a partial readout of the EU-China Summit while the meeting was still ongoing, in what observers said was an attempt to give the impression that Beijing was leading the dialogue.

In China's summary of the talks with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Xi told the leaders the EU needed to "form its own perception of China" and "adopt an independent China policy," presumably separate from the United States.

EU Official Has Bleak Assessment of China
European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, attends a debate during a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on April 6, 2022. Summarizing the April 1 EU-China Summit a day earlier, Borrell told European lawmakers that the talks between leaders in Brussels and Beijing were asking to a “dialogue of the deaf” as the two sides failed to see eye to eye or agree on any joint actions. FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP via Getty Images

Borrell, who said China "didn't want to talk about Ukraine," told MEPs: "For us, the war in Ukraine is a defining moment for whether we live in a world governed by rules or by force—that's the question.

"We condemn the Russian aggression against Ukraine and support this country's sovereignty [and] democracy not because we follow the U.S. blindly, as sometimes China suggests, but because it is our position, our genuine position. We believe in that.

"This was an important message for the Chinese leadership to hear."

The EU's head of foreign and security policy repeated calls for China to "use its influence with Russia to reach a cease-fire," and said any attempt to help Moscow circumvent the West's sanctions would have "serious consequences, and would deteriorate our relations."

"We must continue the dialogue with them in the resolution of the conflict, because China cannot pretend to be a responsible great power and close its eyes or cover its ears when it comes to a conflict that obviously makes it uncomfortable, because it knows very well who the aggressor is, although for political reasons, refuses to name him," said Borrell.

China "stuck to general statements" and avoided specific commitments or "any kind of blame on Russia," he concluded. "As I said, it was not exactly a dialogue. Maybe a dialogue of the deaf, but certainly we did not come to an agreement on joint actions. So we couldn't talk about Ukraine a lot, but we didn't agree on anything else."

Michel and Von der Leyen raised directly issues related to Xinjiang, Hong Kong, the South China Sea, Taiwan, human rights, and labor rights, Borrell noted. There was no prospect for the ratification of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment agreed in December 2020 while China's "unacceptable and disproportionate" counter-sanctions remained in place, he said.

Newsweek has contacted the Chinese government for comment.