By Sarah Newton-John • 30 March 2023 • 20:03
Ursula von der Leyen in 2020/Shutterstock Images
“Far from being put off by the atrocious and illegal invasion of Ukraine, President Xi is maintaining his ‘no-limits friendship’ with Putin’s Russia,” von der Leyen stated.
“But there has been a change of dynamic in the relationship between China and Russia. It is clear from the visit that China sees Putin’s weakness as a way to increase its leverage over Russia.
“And it is clear that the power balance in that relationship – which for most of the last century favoured Russia – has now reversed.”
Western allies and the European Union have been watching the recent steps taken by China on the international stage with concern, including the suspicions of military aid to the country, the highly publicised visit of President Xi Jinping to Moscow, and a 12-point “peace plan” for Ukraine, which was deeply criticised for blurring the lines between aggressor and victim and failing to acknowledge the grim reality of occupied territories in Ukraine.
China’s role as peacemaker will be a “determining factor” to define the engagement between Brussels and Beijing, von der Leyen warned.
“China has a responsibility to play a constructive role in advancing a just peace,” von der Leyen said.
“Any peace plan which would in effect consolidate Russian annexations is simply not a viable plan. We have to be frank on this point.”
The president of the European Commission described the current state of EU-China relations as “more distant and more difficult,” and directly accused Beijing of bullying small-sized countries, trumping the free-trade order, violations of human rights, toughening its military standing and beefing up disinformation and coercion campaigns around the world.
“These escalatory actions point to a China that is becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad,” von der Leyen said.
“China has now turned the page on the era of ‘reform and opening’ and is moving into a new era of security and control.
“We can expect to see a clear push to make China less dependent on the world and the world more dependent on China,” von der Leyen said.
“The Chinese Communist Party’s clear goal is a systemic change of the international order with China at its centre. We have seen it with China’s positions in multilateral bodies which show its determination to promote an alternative vision of the world order.
“We have in front of us a task to refocus on the most important issues. And it is a reflection of the need to adjust our strategy in line with the way the Chinese Communist Party seems to be changing,” the Commission chief said, encouraging member states to avoid falling for “divide-and-conquer tactics.”
Von der Leyen’s speech today was delivered ahead of a joint trip to Beijing with President Emmanuel Macron of France. The hosts of the events were the European Policy Centre and the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), the latter of which is under Chinese sanctions.
“At this defining moment in global affairs, we need the collective will to respond together,” von der Leyen said.
“Nothing is inevitable in geopolitics.”
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