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Can China Mend Its Ties With The West?

  • China is looking to improve its relationship with Europe.
  • Beijing’s relationship with Moscow has been a source of skepticism among Western governments.
  • China now appears to be distancing itself from Russia in a move to rebrand its foreign policy. 

China is aiming to improve relations with the West, particularly its ties with Europe, which have been hurt by Beijing's support for Russia throughout Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

But as I reported here, the Chinese charm offensive is getting a skeptical reception in Brussels.

Finding Perspective: In a move that has been gathering steam since late last year in the aftermath of Beijing's Chinese Community Party congress, China is looking to mend fences as it emerges from the isolation of its strict COVID-19 policies and shifts from the aggressive "wolf warrior" rhetoric of recent years.

This was on display at the World Economic Forum in Davos, where Chinese officials like Vice Premier Liu He offered a gentler tone as part of a foreign policy rebrand targeting Western governments and investors.

On a similar note, Politico reported that Wang Yi, the former Chinese foreign minister who now oversees foreign affairs on the 24-person Politburo, is slated to go on a European tour in February that could also see a meeting in Brussels with the EU's top brass.

Beyond that, there are also attempts from Beijing to signal disapproval with Moscow's war in Ukraine, including recent anonymous comments to the Financial Times from senior Chinese officials who called Russian President Vladimir Putin "crazy" and said that Russia will emerge as a "minor power" from the war.

Why It Matters: Beijing faces an uphill battle in repairing its image in Brussels.

EU officials who spoke to RFE/RL say that Brussels is in "wait and see" mode with China and so far hasn't seen much that signals a true change in policy or any new daylight between it and Moscow.

That's not to say that the EU won't engage with China -- especially after years of limited contacts -- but rather that so far Beijing's rebrand is largely viewed as cosmetic with very little substance to it.

This is particularly true for signals of newfound distance between China and Russia.

Both countries' economies continue to become more integrated and a recent report from Bloomberg that the Biden administration confronted Beijing with evidence suggesting some Chinese state-owned companies may be providing assistance for Russia's war in Ukraine points to ties getting even stronger chains.

Expert Corner: Ukraine And China After One Year

Readers asked: "After nearly a year of war in Ukraine and China sticking with Russia, how has Kyiv changed its policy towards Beijing?"

To find out more, I asked Yurii Poita of the Kyiv-based Center for Army, Conversion, and Disarmament Studies:

"First, Ukraine's expert community and media have become more critical of China, especially over its so-called 'pro-Russian neutrality,' where China does not provide military and military-technical assistance to Russia, but still deepens relations and provides economic, informational, and diplomatic support to Moscow.

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"Second, there has been a reassessment of China as a driver of economic growth and a potential safety cushion for Ukraine. Despite a strategic partnership and growing economic ties between Beijing and Kyiv, Ukraine has not been able to change China's position on the war in its favor. Attempts by the Ukrainian leadership to reach China through diplomacy and the media and convince it to influence Russia or to act as a security guarantor in some sort of postwar deal have completely failed. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has not even been able to get a phone call with Xi.

"At the moment, the opinion that China cannot be a strategic partner is becoming stronger in Ukraine. A search is now under way for a new formula for relations with China that would meet Ukraine's national interests while also taking into account strategic competition between Beijing and Washington and China's position regarding the Russian-Ukrainian war. The office of the president still hopes to involve China in resolving the war, however, these hopes are gradually fading."

By RFE/RL

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