China seeks to mitigate the effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict on its ties to the European Union with continued trade, but hopes are fading that it could happen through the relaunch of a landmark investment deal.

A sign of the lack of progress, no joint statement was issued after friday summit – the first between the EU and China since 2020.

And neither side has indicated any progress on the EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI), which was signed a year ago but has not yet been ratified in Europe.

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During the summit, the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, held separate talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping.

Saturday morning after the summit, Wang Lutong, director general of European affairs at China’s foreign ministry, said there was no progress on the CAI.

“The ball is in Brussels’ court,” Wang said.

“I think the Europeans need to lift the sanctions first, then we can explore the possibility of removing other retaliatory measures, which is reciprocal,” he said, referring to EU sanctions. imposed on China for alleged human rights violations in Xinjiang.

According to the ministry, Xi stressed the “continuity” of China’s policy towards Europe and urged the bloc to “form its own perception of China, adopt an independent China policy and work with China for the steady and sustained growth of China-EU relations”. , providing stabilizing factors to a volatile world”.

“China and the European Union should strive to manage the situation and prevent spillovers from the [Ukraine] crisis, especially to maintain the stability of the global economic system, its rules and foundations and to build people’s confidence,” he said.

“The two sides can coordinate and cooperate in this regard.”

Ding Chun, director of the Center for European Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said there were few mentions of the frozen investment deal because the EU was focusing on the war in Ukraine and the China’s position on the conflict.

“The EU focused on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict rather than the CAI,” he said. “As both sides are unwilling to waive sanctions, the divergence over the deal remains wide and the two sides have yet to find an acceptable solution to resolve the dilemma.”

Still, Xi tried to underscore China’s strong economic ties with the 27-member bloc, saying his country welcomes European business investment and expects the EU to provide “a fair, transparent and non-discriminatory environment”. for Chinese investments.

And for the first time, Xi echoed the EU’s trade policy for “open strategic autonomy”, which Ding said was “a clear indication that China seeks to maintain the momentum of cooperation with the EU, particularly in trade and economic areas and that China is seeking open cooperation, rather than group confrontation’, with the bloc.

Beijing, which has rejected calls from the West to condemn Moscow, is increasingly caught in a diplomatic dilemma between its comprehensive strategic partnership with Russia and its close economic ties with the West.

As relations with Washington have deteriorated, Beijing has turned to Europe as a counterweight to the United States, but there are deep concerns that Brussels will follow Washington in toughening its policy on China.

Ding said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the future of bilateral relations.

The two economic powerhouses have strong economic and trade ties and common interests in areas ranging from global governance and climate change to pandemic prevention, he said.

“I don’t think China-EU relations will become confrontational,” he said.

After the virtual summit, von der Leyen said the two sides ‘exchanged very clearly opposing views’, with the EU warning that China would suffer ‘major reputational damage’ in Europe if it tried to help. Russia.

Wang said China “was not doing anything deliberately to circumvent the sanctions imposed on Russia by the Americans and Europeans”, but its normal trade with Russia “should not be affected”.

“Even Europe conducted normal business with the Russians,” he said.

“We contribute to the global economy by maintaining normal trade [with Russia]to avoid any possible disruption to supply and industrial chains.”

Wang also warned that China’s role should not “be overstated”.

“The key to this issue is not in China’s hands – it’s in Washington’s hands, it’s in Brussels’s hands,” he said, adding that the case was about the European security.

“It’s up to the Europeans to sort it out.”

Additional Reuters reports

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