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As China's president tours Europe, he's pressed to help end the Russia-Ukraine war

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he plans to visit China this month. The news comes as China's President Xi Jinping continues his tour of Europe, where he's being pressed to use his influence with Russia to help end its war on Ukraine. Two of Europe's top leaders, France's President Emmanuel Macron and the EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, are urging Xi to take on more of a role. But what can China actually do to help bring about peace? For more, we turn now to Yun Sun. She directs the China program at the nonprofit, nonpartisan Stimson Center. Welcome to the program. Good morning.

YUN SUN: Good morning. Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So what influence does Europe think China has over Russia?

YUN: Well, Europe seems to believe that China has a critical influence over Russia's decision-making regarding the Ukraine War. In other words, they believe that China has the ability to influence Moscow's decision-making to end the Ukraine war sooner rather than later. But I think that assumption is being challenged a lot, even in China.

FADEL: If you could, say more about the challenges there.

YUN: Well, first off, does China have the capacity to influence Russia's decision-making? Well, China indeed has increased significantly its energy import from Russia last year, and at the same time, China is also contributing a lot to Russia's defense industry...

FADEL: Yeah.

YUN: ...In terms of keeping the war going. But in reality, these influence are not necessarily sufficient for China to tell Moscow to stop the war and instead seek a peace treaty with Europe and also with Ukraine. And at the same time, there's also the question as to whether China is willing to use that influence. China indeed has certain influence.

FADEL: Yeah, I was going to ask you about that because China has declared their relationship with Russia to have no limits. So why would China play this type of role and pressure Moscow to change course on Ukraine?

YUN: Yes, indeed, you're absolutely correct. The core reason for China to adopt the position it has adopted since 2022 on the Ukraine war is geopolitics. It's a belief that Russia - no matter what Russia does, Russia and China still see eye to eye on at least one issue, which is their view about the United States and their relationship with the United States.

So although they are not allies, China has seen Russia as a partner in this anti-West war, anti-U.S. coalition. That is the fundamental factor that anchors China's position on the Ukraine war, which is why China - as long as China still believes the great power competition with the United States is a prevailing theme of China's foreign policy. China is not going to see Russia in a different light. It will continue to be China's trusted partner.

FADEL: It's interesting because it seems like at least some in Europe take a different approach to China's role in global security than the acrimonious way that the U.S. and Beijing deal with each other. What explains that difference?

YUN: I think, between Europe and the United States, first off, while the U.S. and China are engaged in a great power competition, this great power competition is not necessarily true between China and Europe, right? Europe does not necessarily have the same aspiration coming to global security in terms of the - in terms of a supremacy role.

And at the same time, I think Europe also sees China as a significant trading partner that plays a critical role in Europe's foreign trade. And we have seen this from German Chancellor Scholz's visit to China. And this trade factor, or this economic factor, also anchors the relationship between China and Europe. And last but not least, Europe has this aspiration for strategic autonomy, which is something that the Chinese have always said that they support, even in the war in Ukraine between - with Russia.

FADEL: Yun Sun, senior fellow at the Stimson Center. Thank you for your time.

YUN: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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