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On the second anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war, Europe is full of doubts about Beijing’s stance

On the second anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war, Europe is full of doubts about Beijing’s so-called “neutral” stance of “persuading peace and promoting talks” since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Contrary to Beijing’s propaganda argument of “playing an active role,” in the minds of many Europeans, China’s substantive role in mediating the Russia-Ukraine war was almost zero. Experts believe that the differences between China and Europe in the Russia-Ukraine war are difficult to eliminate.

European perception is very different from Beijing’s propaganda

A Croatian young man told the media that he believed China was taking the opportunity to strengthen Russia’s economic dependence on China, which was sanctioned by the West. “For now, I don’t see China mediating the war.”

“China has the potential to become a mediator if the Chinese government believes that stopping the war is beneficial to its domestic affairs, which would mean stopping its support for Russia,” he added.

As far as domestic public opinion in Croatia is concerned, he said: “People hardly think that China played a role in the Russo-Ukrainian war. If so, they either regard China as a supporter of Russia’s full support or they regard China as a supporter of Russia. Passive spectator.”

Another Hungarian young man also told the media that with the advancement of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative in Central and Eastern Europe, the topic of China has become a hot topic in Hungary in recent years, with the government and the opposition constantly debating whether China’s influence on Hungary is positive or not. But when it comes to China’s role in the Russia-Ukraine war, ordinary people, except international relations experts, have no impression that Beijing’s role in war mediation seems dispensable.

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A poll released last year by the Ukrainian NGO “Rating Group” showed that although most Ukrainians still hold a neutral attitude towards China, since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Ukraine has begun to believe that China has developed hostile policies towards Ukraine. The proportion of people has been growing steadily.

Ostap Sereda, a professor at the Catholic University of Ukraine, explained to the media: “A large portion of Ukrainians respectfully view China as a ‘neutral’ country, possibly indicating a hidden belief that Beijing has sufficient resources to influence Moscow and ultimately help deter Russian aggression.”

Although the Ukrainian government avoids making any critical remarks or confrontational gestures against the Chinese government and hopes to establish a direct and regular contact mechanism with Beijing, Ukrainian people have different views. He said: “In Ukrainian public opinion, the Beijing-Moscow-Tehran axis of the heart is constantly criticized.”

It can be seen from this that European people are generally indifferent to Beijing’s role in the Russo-Ukrainian war. This is a far cry from Beijing’s self-promotion. On February 17, when attending the “China Session” of the Munich Security Conference, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated on the Ukraine issue that China was neither “watching the fire from the other side” nor “taking advantage of the opportunity to make profits,” saying that “China has persisted in persuading peace for this purpose. Promote talks and play a positive role in restoring peace.”

However, the United States, the European Union, and NATO all believe that Beijing’s words and deeds are inconsistent and that the so-called “peace-promoting talks” are just superficial efforts. Therefore, they continue to urge China to exert substantive influence on Russia. In this regard, Wang Yi said that “China is not the creator of the Ukrainian crisis, nor is it a party,” trying to distance itself from the Russia-Ukraine war.

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It is worth noting that on the second anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war, the Chinese government still refuses to use the term “Russia-Ukraine war,” which is consistent with the current status of the Russia-Ukraine war. Instead, it uses the term “Ukrainian crisis,” which is an understatement and has an unclear meaning.

Experts believe that differences between China and Europe are difficult to resolve

Contrary to Beijing’s attempts to downplay the impact of the Russia-Ukraine war, the war’s shock to Europe was huge and profound. Italian sinologist Francesco Sisci told the media, “After nearly 80 years of peace on the European continent, Russia’s two-year invasion of Ukraine has made European countries aware of a brand new reality. At first, we thought of war. It will be short-lived, and life will soon return to normal. It is now clear that the war is likely to be long-lasting and that it is spreading beyond Ukraine. Russia, once a difficult business partner, is now an enemy.”

According to Philipp Ther, a history professor at the University of Vienna, the Chinese government’s negative attitude towards mediation is not conducive to China’s national interest in becoming a responsible major country. In an interview with Voice of America, he said: “China missed a valuable opportunity to become an international broker to mediate the war between Russia and Ukraine; if China can persuade Russia to withdraw its troops, China will be able to become an internationally recognized superpower.” He added, “I can understand why Beijing is reluctant to do this because they see Russia as a partner and don’t want the West to win in a war.”

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Zhuang Jiaying, associate professor at the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore, believes that regardless of whether China provides substantial support to Russia’s war economy, China will continue to play a low-key and passive role in public. He told Voice of America that if China really wants to fulfill its verbal commitments and play a constructive role in peace, it must take restrictive measures against Russia, and he is “not sure whether Beijing has the political will to do so. Even if it does, this willingness is also invisible to the outside world. Beijing can constrain Russia, but it does not and does not appear to be interested in doing so.”

Zhuang Jiaying is not optimistic about whether it is possible for the EU to persuade China to put pressure on Russia to end the Russia-Ukraine war as soon as possible. He told Voice of America: “The relationship between the EU and China will continue to be tense, but there is also cooperation. The two sides have reasons to cooperate economically, but they have different opinions on fair trade, technical restrictions, security considerations, institutional differences, etc. Europe can try Persuading China to put pressure on Russia in other ways is unlikely to have immediate results.”

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