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4th Feb 2023

China to keep 'normal' Russia trade after EU appeal

  • EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and Council president Charles Michel (Photo: ec.europa.eu)
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China will continue "normal" trade with Russia it said one day after the EU urged Chinese leaders not to undermine Western sanctions.

"China is not a related party on the crisis of Ukraine. We don't think our normal trade with any other country should be affected," Wang Lutong, the director-general of European affairs at China's foreign ministry, said in Beijing Saturday (2 April), Reuters reports.

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Wang spoke one day after top EU officials had urged Chinese president Xi Jinping not to help Russia circumvent Western sanctions.

The senior Chinese diplomat reiterated Xi's long-standing line that: "We oppose sanctions".

"The effects of these sanctions also risk spilling to the rest of the world, leading to wars of currency, wars of trade and finance and also risk jeopardising the supply chain", Wang said.

But his comments on "normal" trade appeared carefully calibrated to meet the limited EU hope that China would not do anything special to bailout Russia financially.

"China should, if not support, at least not interfere with our sanctions [on Russia]," EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had said after holding video-talks with Xi on Friday.

EU Council president Charles Michel said: "We hope, we hope these arguments have been heard by the Chinese authorities".

China has helped spread Russian propaganda on the Ukraine war, but has so far stopped short of overt financial or military intervention.

"We exchanged very clearly opposing views. This is not a conflict. This is a war. This is not a European affair. This is a global affair," von der Leyen said on Friday.

EU-China trade was worth €2bn a day while Russia-China trade was just €330m a day, she said.

And it would pose a "major reputational challenge" for China among EU investors and consumers if it backed Russia, von der Leyen warned.

But if China was happy to maintain the status quo on Russia for now, Wang's readout of the EU summit showed that Xi was happy to defy Europe on trade as well as values.

Chinese sanctions on MEPs have blocked an EU-China investment treaty, but Wang said it was up to the EU to back down if it wanted friendlier business ties.

"The ball is in the court of Brussels," he told Reuters. "The Europeans have got to remove the sanctions first, and then we can explore the possibility of removing other retaliation measures," Wang said, referring to earlier EU human rights sanctions on Chinese officials.

Xi himself on Friday gave no public assurance of his intentions on Russia.

Instead, he urged the EU to treat China "independently" of Europe's close relations with the US.

"The current situation [Western-Russian confrontation] may destroy the achievements of decades of international economic cooperation," Xi said.

Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang also underlined that Beijing didn't feel obliged to toe the Western line.

"China has been promoting talks for peace in its own way, and will continue to work with the EU and the international community to play a constructive role for early easing of the situation, cessation of hostilities," Li's post-summit statement said.

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