In meeting with Xi, EU leader takes hard line on war in Ukraine

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, put pressure on China on Monday to help resolve the war in Ukraine, saying Beijing should “use all its influence on Russia to end its war of aggression against Ukraine.” .

He spoke after accompanying French President Emmanuel Macron on a meeting with Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, who on Sunday began his first visit to Europe in five years. Ms von der Leyen has consistently taken a stronger line on China than Macron.

With Russian President Vladimir V. Putin again suggesting he may be ready to use nuclear weapons in the war in Ukraine, he said Xi played “an important role in debunking Russia's irresponsible nuclear threats.” She was confident, von der Leyen said, that Xi “would continue to do so against the backdrop of continued nuclear threats from Russia.”

It was unclear whether his call would have any impact on Xi, and describing the conflict as Russia's “war of aggression” in Ukraine seemed likely to irk the Chinese leader. Beijing has established a “no limits” friendship with Russia and has provided Moscow with critical support for its military effort, including fighter jet parts, microchips and other dual-use equipment.

“More efforts are needed to reduce the delivery of dual-use goods to Russia that end up on the battlefield,” von der Leyen said of China. “And given the existential nature of the threats arising from this war to both Ukraine and Europe, this affects EU-China relations.”

It is relatively unusual for a senior European official to describe the war in Ukraine as an “existential threat” to the European continent. This may reflect Putin's renewed talk of using nuclear weapons.

Von der Leyen also took a firm line on trade. Tensions are high between the 27-nation European Union and China over rapidly growing imports of electric vehicles and other goods. Excess production, often heavily subsidized, combined with weak domestic demand has led to a big push in exports from China.

“These subsidized products, like electric vehicles or, for example, steel, are flooding the European market,” von der Leyen said. “At the same time, China continues to massively support its manufacturing sector, and this is combined with domestic demand that is not increasing.”

“The world,” he declared, “cannot absorb China's surplus production.”

The war in Ukraine, and the resulting need to make a sharp adjustment in energy supplies as most of the continent stopped buying from Russia, has put severe pressure on European economies. Inflation rose and with it grew fears that China would drive companies out of business.

“Europe cannot accept market-distorting practices that could lead to deindustrialization here at home,” von der Leyen said, adding that “Europe will not hesitate to make the difficult decisions necessary to protect its economy and its safety”.

Just over a year ago, von der Leyen accompanied Macron on a visit to China, where the French leader was generously received. The visit ended with a Sino-French declaration of “comprehensive strategic partnership,” and the French leader echoed the Chinese lexicon of a “multipolar” world, free from “blockades” and “cold war mentality.”

Ms. von der Leyen, however, warned at the time that “China has now turned the page on the era of “reform and opening up” and is moving towards a new era of security and control.”

China's goal, he said, is to become the most powerful nation in the world by mid-century and ensure a “systemic change in the international order with China at the center.”

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