'China has the biggest influence on Russia', says EU foreign policy chief

'China has the biggest influence on Russia', says EU foreign policy chief
Copyright euronews
By Méabh Mc Mahon
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Speaking in Florence at the annual State of the Union conference, EU Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell gave his thoughts on the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and Europe's place on the world stage.

Euronews
Mr. Borrell. It's been one year since we sat here together on the same stage in Florence. The world's perhaps no safer than it was this time last year. How has the year been for the European Union, and how has the year been for you?

Josep Borrell

Well, this has been a difficult year, certainly, mark a new war. Suddenly the war is at our borders and we have a been very busy trying to support Ukraine. But at the same time this year, we have seen the emergence of China as a big power, an assertive power, and we have seen the fragmentation of the world. And other countries, big countries, populated, growing quickly and not willing to take sides on the Ukrainian war. Yes, voting in the United Nations against the invasion, but politically sending a message that shows that there is a feeling of, well, this is not our war. It is going to be very bad for us. On directly high prices of electricity, high prices of energy and food. So I think that for us Europeans this year has been the year of taking stock of a much complex reality, a fragmented world with a big clash between the two superpowers, the US and China. And once again, the real dramatic reality of a war in our borders that cost a lot in terms of money to us and to the Ukrainians in terms of lives.

Euronews
And do you feel like you've become somewhat a war diplomat? Do you feel like you're prioritizing Ukraine a lot and sometimes perhaps you might not have time for other issues?

Josep Borrell

Well, more than diplomacy, we are doing diplomacy. But in Ukraine, unhappily, unhappily, this is not the moment for diplomatic conversations about peace, is the moment of supporting me to militarily the war. So I feel as a diplomat, but I feel also as a kind of defense minister of the European Union, because I spent quite an important part of my time talking about arms, ammunitions. I never thought that I was going to spend so much time thinking about how many artillery shells we Europeans can provide to the Ukrainians, for example?

Euronews
Indeed, this time last year we spoke a lot about sanctions. The focus of the EU was sanctions and more sanctions. Now, as you say, it's more focused on defense. Do you feel when you're meeting behind closed doors with ministers, do you feel like the EU is in, is in war mode?

Josep Borrell
Well, the war has united us. There is nothing that can unite you more than an enemy, a threat, and the feeling of facing a threat, a real existential threat has united us more than any, any speech, any theoretical approach about the need of integration. And it has united also the West. The transatlantic relationship has never been stronger like today.

Euronews
Really?

Josep Borrell
 Yes. Well, with President Biden, maybe with President Trump, things would have been different. But today, yes, in front of the war in Ukraine, the West, meaning by the West, the trans-Atlantic people, Canada, United Kingdom, US, Europeans have shown a remarkable unity. And I think that one of the mistakes of Putin was to think that the Europeans would not be united because of the energy dependency, for example, and that the public opinion in Europe would get tired of supporting Ukrainians and that the US and Europe would have a quarreling about who does what and which share the burden. This is not the case.

Euronews
And we saw this week President Zelensky of Ukraine traveling to Finland. He was also in the Netherlands, he was in The Hague. Do you think that Europeans are still concerned about the war in Ukraine? Do you think it's still on their minds?

Josep Borrell
Look, it's not the same thing in Florence, as in Vilnius...is not the same thing in the south of Europe, than in the Baltics. The Baltics are in the front line. And they have a sincere feeling that if Ukraine falls, they will be the next. For them, it's an existential threat. If you live in Sevilla, you live in the other border, the other end of Europe, you don't have the same perception. But if you look at the polls, the great majority of Europeans agree on supporting Ukraine.

AP Photo
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (L) and Finnish President Sauli Niinistö (R) at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki, Finland, Wednesday, May 3, 2023AP Photo

Euronews
Just before the big news, in Brussels, there was the €500 million Ammunition Production Act just announced by the European Commission, also known as ASAP. How big a deal is this? Do you think it could be a game changer? This plan?

Josep Borrell
To the scale of the problem, it’s not going to be a game changer, but it’s a signal that Europe has to increase its defense capabilities. And the defense capabilities starts by the industrial capabilities. Our industry is at very, very low level from the point of view of the capacity of production. For a peace situation that's okay. But for a war, no. So we have to ramp up. We have to increase this capacity.

Euronews
Do you think people are on board with supporting this investment in arms and they wouldn't worry that we're funding a war instead of a recovery?

Josep Borrell
You know, everybody prefers but to the guns, me the first. But I think that people, the people who are in charge - parliamentarians, high level politicians at the national level of European level - have to send a message. We didn't want this war. We were not looking for it. But the war is a reality and you have to face it. And everybody wants peace, yes, but for the time being, unhappily, Putin is continuing the war and Ukraine has to defend. And if we don't support Ukraine, Ukraine will fall, in a matter of days. So, yes, I would prefer to spend this money increasing the, the well-being of the people, hospitals, schools, the cities, as the mayor is asking for. But we don't have the choice.

Euronews
What would be your message to Vladimir Putin?

**Josep Borrell
**

Well, the only message that the international community and certainly the Europeans are sending is ‘Stop this war. Stop this war. And stop bombing Ukraine, withdraw your troops’. I know he's not going to do it, but every time I listen to some world leader saying I want peace. Yes, OK, if you want peace, push Russia to withdraw. Push Russia to stop the war. Don't tell me ‘Stop supporting Ukraine’. Because if I stop supporting Ukraine, certainly the war will finish soon. But how? How the war will finish. It doesn't matter? Yes, it matters. It is the most important thing. The war cannot just finish because Ukraine is unable to defend itself and it has to surrender. And the Russian troops will be in the Polish border and Ukraine will become a second Belarus. Do you want this kind of ending for the war? No.

Euronews
Well, as we're sitting here in Florence, the situation on the ground does not look good. Do you see any workable peace plan on the table to stop the war?

Josep Borrell
The only thing that could be called a Peace plan is Zelensky's proposal because the Chinese peace plan, while it's not a peace plan, it is a set of wishful consideration, wishful thinking, but is not a peace plan. The only one is the one that has been proposed by the Ukrainians, but certainly will not be accepted by the Russians. But let's face the reality. Like it or not, the reality is Putin continues saying, I have military objectives and as far as I don't get these military objectives, I will continue fighting. So the peace plans are good, but you need someone that wants to talk about peace. Really. If you do find someone who says ‘I have military objectives and I will continue bombing, I will continue fighting until I get them’. Well, what kind of a peace talks that you want to do?

Euronews
But I just want to ask you, do you think the focus is more on defense now because there's a feeling that the sanctions were not as effective as they could have been or they didn't work as fast perhaps, as they could have?

Josep Borrell
Three days ago, it was in Latin America and I was talking with a president of a great Latin American country. And he told me, look, you are doing with Russia, with your sanctions, the same thing that the allies in 1919 did with Germany. And I told him ‘look, I don't understand, what is the comparison?’ Germany had to face war reparations that certainly were disproportionate and pushed the Second World War. But our sanctions to Russia has nothing to do with that. We call sanctions, and in fact, the word sanctions does not exist on the European treaty. If you go to a European treaty and you look for sanctions, the word sanctions doesn't exist. It's only the restrictive measures, which are the restrictive measures. I don't…

Euronews
So do they work? Restrictive measures?

Josep Borrell
Yes, they work. Certainly they work, but they are not instantaneous. It’s like a diet? Do you want to go on a diet? You're not going to lose 30 kilos in one week.

Euronews
And nobody's going on a diet in Florence. Josep Borrell one more question. What about the Chinese head of State Xi? He had a phone call with President Zelenskyy. Did you find that phone call reassuring? Do you think they can play a role as a peacemaker?

Josep Borrell
Since the beginning, I said China has a role to play. And then I was strongly criticized because certainly China is on the side of Russia. But even if it is on the side of Russia, I think China has a role to play. China is a permanent member of the Security Council. China is the one who has the biggest influence in Russia. China has not provided arms to Russia until now. The US was considering this possibility, this has not happened until now, and the fact that President Xi talked with President Zelensky well, even if he didn't mention war, but they talk. It’s a good thing. And certainly we have a…we are very much interested in not pushing Russia on the side of China too much.

Euronews
And on China, you had a visit planned to Beijing recently, but you caught COVID.

Josep Borrell
Yes, I got COVID. And maybe it was not so bad because Beijing was crowded with Europeans. There were so many that maybe it was not a good moment to go. I will go.

Euronews
It was a blessing in disguise, perhaps. Indeed it was, it was an interesting time because Emmanuel Macron, the French president, was there. He brought along the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. What would your stance be vis a vis China? How can you find a stance regarding China that pleases everyone?

Josep Borrell
On the EU, U.S., China triangle - we are closer to Washington, certainly, but we have to have our own way and we are working on that. One of the most important things I am doing now is to prepare a report for the next European Union Council to present our view on China, because China certainly is a partner How not? Is a competitor? Yes, it's a competitor, but the U.S. is also a competitor, economically speaking, and is a rival. But what kind of a rival? Is China, a threat to the national security of the Europeans, like Russia? In Versailles the head of state said Russia is a threat to our national security. We have never said that about China. And I think we don't, we should not be against the rise of China. China will become a great power, like it or not. The important thing is how China will manage its power.

AP Photo
The French and Chinese Presidents and the President of the European CommissionAP Photo

Euronews
And what about Europe? Because this event, of course, it's all about Europe. It's all about the European Union as a potential power. And the language of power is your signature phrase. How are we doing? I mean, are we taken seriously on the world stage?

Josep Borrell
Europeans have to learn to use the language of power. But there are many kinds of power. Power is not just military power and not just sending troops and occupying territories. But look, now, at that moment in Bur Sudan, in the south of Sudan, there are European war ships taking out of Sudan, about 200 European citizens. This is a way of showing power.

Euronews
And on Sudan, what more can the EU do on the international community to stop the conflict?

**Josep Borrell
**There's very little of what we can do in Sudan. It's a civil war between the two, two generals with two armies. Nobody will intervene militarily in Sudan. In Sudan, the only way of acting is trying to get a cease fire, among them through international pressure and Europeans, who are one among others. We don't have a surplus of power, but we have certain powers. And the more united we are, the bigger this power will be. And this is, for me, the lesson learned in front of a war, in front of the electricity prices going up. We need more unity in the world in which we live. We Europeans, we are too small. If we want to survive, we have to be more united. We have to abandon the unanimity vote on foreign policy.

Euronews
Well, that was my next question, because nine countries also agree with you, including France and Germany. A letter was sent this week on this very point, putting an en unanimity. Will that ever fly?

Josep Borrell
Well, the problem with abandoning unanimity is that it requires unanimity. You need unanimity to abandon unanimity.

Euronews
And hence my question, will it ever fly? I mean...

Josep Borrell
Well, I know it's difficult because everybody wants to keep their veto right, Because unanimity means each one has the veto, right. Unanimity means that if I don't like it, I block it until I get something else. Well, this is not the way we could work in a world that runs very quickly where there are big states, China is a state. The U.S. is a state. India is a state, too. We are not a state. We are a club of states. And we have to have rules that make us able to decide quicker.

Euronews
You have one year left. Of course, here we're all talking about the European elections next May or June. We're still waiting for the date to be confirmed. What would you like to achieve in that last year?

Josep Borrell
A just peace in Ukraine. It's the most difficult endeavor, but certainly, and this is the thing that matters more today for us, a just peace in Ukraine. And if I could say a second one is a better understanding with the rest, because there is the West and the rest. A better understanding with them to try to prove that they really matters for us, that we are not only engaged with Ukraine, that we are able to face their complaints, their resentment, and to make them understand that Europe is no longer an imperial or colonial power. It belongs to the past, but it is clear force of peace in order to face the global challenges. And the global challenges is not only climate, it is the debt and development to work more with them because we still have a too much Eurocentric approach to the rest of the world.

Euronews
Josep Borrell Thank you so much for speaking to us here at the State of the Union.

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