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Germany's Baerbock says China can help end Ukraine war

May 9, 2023

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock urged Beijing to take a clear stance in the war, saying that neutrality was the same as taking the side of the aggressor."

Deutschland Außenministerin Annalena Baerbock und der chinesische Außenminister Qin Gang treffen sich in Berlin
Image: Michael Kappeler/Pool via REUTERS

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday said China could play an influential role in ending the war in Ukraine "if it decides to do so."

Baerbock was speaking to reporters after a meeting with her Chinese counterpart in Beijing, saying that "as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China can play a significant role in ending the war, if it decides to do so."

Baerbock is hosting Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who then travels to France and Norway.

China's government claims neutrality in the Ukraine conflict and hopes that its peace plan to mediate in the war would cement that position. Beijing has blocked efforts at the United Nations to condemn Russia's invasion of Ukrraine. 

"As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and responsible major country, China will neither watch the fire from the other bank nor add fuel to the fire," Qin told reporters alongside Baerbock.

But Baerbock pressed Beijing to take a clear stance in the war, saying "neutrality means taking the side of the aggressor, and that is why our guiding principle is to make it clear that we are on the side of the victim."

Baerbock welcomed recent statements by the Chinese government confirming the sovereignty of countries that once made up the Soviet Union, adding that the position must hold for Ukraine, too.

China’s special envoy for Europe was expected to visit Ukraine again soon too, Qin said.

Germany and China discuss potential sanctions on Chinese firms 

Western countries have accused China of supplying material and political support to Russia since its invasion last year.

The ambassadors of the bloc are to meet Wednesday to discuss sanctions against Russia, including possible sanctions on some Chinese companies accused of providing support to Russia's military.

China and Russia enjoy "normal exchanges and cooperation," Qin said, denying Western allegations that its firms provided material support to Russian army. Qin said China maintains normal trade relations with Moscow. 

Qin added that Beijing was "firmly against" other countries imposing their own regulations or taking unilateral action against its companies.

"China will also take necessary response to firmly protect the legitimate interests of Chinese companies," Qin said.

Baerbock said it was important that sanctions against Russia are not subverted in a roundabout way, adding that "sanctioned dual-use goods don't fall into the wrong hands."

Qin also downplayed the recent cancellation of a meeting between Chinese and German finance ministers, saying the visit was postponed for "technical reasons" and should not be over-interpreted.

German Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger, a fellow member of German Finance Minister Christian Lindner’s Free Democratic Party, angered Beijing with her visit to Taiwan in March. 

Linder said Tuesday that Germany should have less of a soft touch approach in its dealings with China.

The EU and China relations 

There has been a growing debate in recent months about how the European Union should deal with China, a top EU trade partner.

European leaders and diplomats have paid visits to China as recently as last month, seeking China's help, as an ally of Russia's President Vladimir Putin, to end the war in Ukraine. 

But they don't see China as the key mediator and European officials say the proposed China peace plan is a list of previously known positions and is unacceptable.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a speech to the European Parliament that he favors a "de-risking" rather than a "decoupling" of Germany's economy from China.

The position is different from the US which favors isolating China economically by imposing trade restrictions on the world stage.

EU officials are also deeply concerned about a military escalation in the Taiwan Strait.

rm/jcg (Reuters, AP, dpa)