China said on Saturday it was doing nothing “to circumvent” sanctions imposed on Russia, following warnings from EU officials that any attempt to help Moscow in the war in Ukraine could harm economic relations.
In the clearest indication yet of Beijing’s position on the matter, a Foreign Ministry official told reporters: “We are not doing anything deliberately to circumvent the sanctions imposed on Russia by the Americans and the Europeans”.
But the statement, delivered after virtual talks between top European and Chinese leaders on Friday, comes as Beijing maintains its position of refusing to condemn the invasion by its ally Russia.
Washington has raised fears that China could potentially send military and economic aid to Russia or help it through harsh Western sanctions hitting the country’s economy.
“We oppose the sanctions, and the effects of these sanctions are also likely to spread to the rest of the world,” Wang Lutong, director general of the European Affairs Department of China’s Foreign Ministry, told a press briefing.
Senior EU officials warned Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a virtual summit a day earlier that any attempt to aid Russia’s war could damage ties between the two economic superpowers, adding that the business closely monitors events.
Talks with President Xi – originally intended to focus on issues such as trade and climate change – have been overshadowed by Western fears of Chinese support for Moscow in its attack on Ukraine.
Facing European warnings, however, Wang said China’s normal trade with Moscow “should not be affected”.
“Even Europe conducted normal business with the Russians,” he said.
“We are contributing to the global economy by maintaining normal trade (with Russia), to avoid any possible disruption to supply and industrial chains.”
Beijing is Moscow’s biggest trading partner, with trade volumes reaching $147 billion last year, according to China Customs data, up more than 30 percent from 2019.
The head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, believes that “China has an influence on Russia”, saying that China is expected to “take its responsibility to end this war”.
But Mr Wang warned on Saturday that China’s role should not “be overstated”.
“The key to this issue is not in China’s hands, it’s in Washington, it’s in Brussels,” he said, adding that the matter was about European security.
“It’s up to the Europeans to sort it out.”