(CNSNews.com) – Beijing’s top diplomat is on a week-long European tour that may include an interaction with Secretary of State Antony Blinken when both attend a security conference in Germany, two weeks after Blinken abruptly canceled a trip to Beijing due to the Chinese spy balloon episode.
The visit by Wang Yi, the Chinese Communist Party’s senior foreign affairs official, will also provide European officials with the opportunity to press him on China’s failure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
That was the case in Paris, the first stop of the trip, where according to the French foreign ministry, Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna called on Wang “to step up pressure on Russia to enable a return to compliance with the basic principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
Wang also met with President Emmanuel Macron, whose office in a vaguer statement said both men “expressed the same objective of contributing to peace in accordance with international law.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion just weeks after he and Chinese President Xi Jinping signaled a “no limits” partnership at a meeting in Beijing.
China claims to have an “impartial” stance on the war, but it has amplified Kremlin talking points on the security situation in Europe, sympathizing with Moscow’s stance on the purported threat posed by NATO.
Beijing’s stance has also been evident in its voting record at the United Nations. In five U.N. General Assembly resolutions through 2022 critical of the Russian invasion, China voted “no” twice and abstained three times.
It voted against resolutions that ejected Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council, and that called for Russian “reparation for damage, loss or injury’” arising from the invasion.
China abstained in the vote for resolutions that condemned the invasion, blame the “dire” humanitarian situation on Russia, and condemned the purported annexation of four Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine.
As the invasion nears its one-year anniversary next week, the war and its implications for European security is expected to dominate the annual Munich Security Conference, a three-day event beginning on Friday.
Both Wang and Blinken are due to take part, although the State Department has not confirmed that they will meet.
It was in a phone call with Wang two weeks ago that Blinken informed China he would not be going ahead with a visit, which was supposed to begin later that same day, because a Chinese high-altitude surveillance balloon was drifting over the United States.
The canceled visit had been seen as a crucial step towards restoring bilateral dialogue, in line with an agreement reached by President Biden and Xi at a meeting in Bali last fall. Beijing had largely suspended dialogue with the U.S. in response to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last summer.
China has pushed back heatedly over the balloon affair, maintaining that it was a “civilian” airship, carrying out meteorological research, which had inadvertently blown off course. The Pentagon has rejected those claims, saying the path taken by the balloon over highly-sensitive military installations pointed to a deliberate intelligence-gathering effort.
Briefing ahead of Blinken’s trip to Europe, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried said that while there would be “lots of opportunities for bilateral engagements” at the security conference, she could not confirm if Blinken would meet with Wang.
According to the program, Wang will participate in an event entitled “China in the world” on Saturday morning, while Blinken will hold a panel discussion on Ukraine with his Ukrainian and German counterparts about four hours later.
‘Strategic alignment between Xi and Putin’
Speaking on U.S. efforts to align with European partners on how to relate to China, Donfried said the situation had changed significantly in recent years.
“I’ve been someone who’s worked on Europe and on transatlantic relations for a long time, and I’m really struck by how close our [U.S. and European] views of the PRC are today compared to, let’s say, five years ago,” she said.
Donfried said many European countries formerly saw China primarily as a market for exports, but with Beijing’s massive Belt and Road infrastructure initiative, “Europe suddenly realized that China was coming to Europe and buying up strategic critical infrastructure, it changed their perspective on China.”
Beijing’s stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also been a key factor.
“There’s been a really important conversation happening across the Atlantic about how we see the relationship with the PRC,” Donfried said.
After China and Russia declared their “no limits” partnership, she said, “we’ve seen that strategic alignment between Xi and Putin continue, and so we’re also focused on that relationship in the context of Russia’s war against Ukraine.”
In addition to France and Germany, Wang is visiting Italy and Hungary, and will end the tour in Russia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told lawmakers in Moscow on Wednesday that Russia’s strategic partnership with China “has reached a historically unprecedented level.”
“The foreign policy link between Moscow and Beijing cements the foundation of the emerging polycentric architecture and serves as a balancing and stabilizing factor in world affairs,” he said.
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