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China is European Union's darling thanks to the Ukraine conflict

The European Union (EU) and China will finally hold a virtual summit this Friday with the Ukrainian crisis expected to dominate the talks

Wednesday March 30, 2022 12:28 PM, IANS

EU China Trade Deal

New Delhi: The European Union (EU) and China will finally hold a virtual summit this Friday with the Ukrainian crisis expected to dominate the talks. This year the summit is also likely to calm down the tense relations between EU and China.

The EU-China summit was postponed amid much acrimony last year due to friction over human rights violations in Xinjiang and Lithuania's worsening diplomatic relations with Beijing. The immediate casualty of the downturn in EU-China relations was the freezing of the Comprehensive Agreement of Investment (CAI)-the bilateral trade deal.

The EU has been putting pressure on China to condemn Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. However, China has not acceded to European wishes owing to the fact that it prefers to take an independent view of the situation and also because of its close ties with Russia.

Prof Gulshan Sachdeva, Centre for European Studies, JNU, told India Narrative that since the summit is taking place with the background of war in Europe, "the EU political statements are likely to focus on rules based international order and sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine".

Sachdeva says:

"The EU would also like China not to help Russia in making economic sanctions less effective".

It is premature to say to what extent China will oblige the Europeans, despite their genuine fears about the war at their doorstep, considering that it depends upon Russia for its vast energy needs.

The European mood was summed up by the EU envoy to China, Nicolas Chapuis' statement, who recently said the focus for the EU during the meeting would be gathering "as much support from China" as possible to "help Europe to stop the war in Ukraine".

With Ukraine likely to dominate the talks, what happens to the other issues--salvaging their sinking diplomatic relations and the trade deal?

Sachdeva says:

"Although any major breakthrough is unlikely, still there is a possibility of some serious discussion on moving CAI further".

During the last two years even as China and the 27-member European bloc were bickering over numerous issues, China entered into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) with the south-east Asian nations. The RCEP is touted to be one of the largest free trade agreements, which might lead China to think less about a trade deal with the EU.

At the same time, China surpassed the US as Europe's largest trading partner in 2021. An EU trade website says:

"In 2021, China was the second largest partner for EU exports of goods (10.2 per cent) and the largest partner for EU imports of goods (22.4 per cent)".

With such strong trade linkages, the two are likely to tread cautiously in times of conflict and uncertainty.

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