“Senior EU officials have unsuccessfully sought to convince Beijing to push Moscow toward deescalation,” Eurasia Group experts wrote in a note Tuesday. “[They] will now seek to enlist Xi, but the feeling in Brussels is that China is not interested in pressuring Russia.”
The divergence over the Russia-Ukraine crisis stands in contrast to China and Europe’s economic ties, which have deepened during the coronavirus pandemic.
Here’s a look at where things stand — and what’s at stake.
What’s on the table
“The way in which China handles this conflict will have bearing on the future overall of the EU-China relationship,” Reinhard Butikofer, head of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with China, told reporters ahead of the summit.
China has acknowledged the tension in the room, but pushed back on any assertions of wrongdoing.
“The current international situation is volatile,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at press conference Wednesday.
China has long sought to drive a wedge between the United States and European Union, with officials and state media often pointing to the importance for the bloc’s “strategic autonomy” from Washington.
The top trading partner
despite the pressure, China and the European Union are heavily reliant on each other for hundreds of billions of dollars in trade each year.
In 2021, the trend continued: Overall China-EU trade in goods reached €695.5 billion (approximately $777 billion), compared with €631.4 billion ($704 billion) in US-EU trade.
China was the number one source of EU imports and the third largest destination of EU exports, after the United States and United Kingdom, according to Eurostat.
who trades what
Cars, machinery and telecom equipment are some of the most traded goods between Europe and China.
For Europe, autos and vehicle components are by far the hottest exports, while aviation and electrical gear are also popular.
Meanwhile, baby carriages, data processing machines, furniture and other household items are among China’s big sellers into Europe. Many products flow into the Netherlands, home to Europe’s biggest port in Rotterdam.
The region’s top exporters to China are Germany — which alone accounts for €104.7 billion ($116.5 billion) of the goods shipped to China — followed by France and the Netherlands.
Currently, however, tensions are high over one particular, much smaller EU country: Lithuania.
The move enraged the Communist leadership in Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, despite never having ruled it.
“The problem between China and Lithuania is a political, not an economic one,” he said.
Janka Oertel, director of the Asia Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the case would likely be top of mind for EU leaders on Friday.
“Brussels will have to send a strong signal of unity to deter further — implicit or explicit — attacks,” she said.
Given the current plethora of issues, that is “a non-starter” for now, said Eurasia Group analysts.
— CNN’s Beijing bureau, Irene Nasser, Julia Horowitz, James Frater, Martin Goillandeau and Luke McGee contributed to this report.