A close ally of Russia, China has publicly upheld a position of strategic neutrality since Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in February. While Beijing has not voiced any support for Moscow over its actions in Ukraine, the country has not joined in on issuing any sanctions on Putin, as trade in commodities and gas continues to flow.
However, this stance by China caused tensions in the relationships between Beijing and countries in the European Union, particularly in Eastern Europe, which sees Putin as an existential threat.
In order to smooth over these tensions, Xi has sent over a senior diplomat to tour Eastern Europe, as Beijing realises that its ties with Russia could threaten its political and economic ambitions.
Huo Yuzhen, China’s special representative for Central and Eastern Europe, set off Monday to visit the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Poland.
According to an EU official, Mr Huo is expected to “gauge the sentiment” and “shore up EU-China relations outside of Brussels”.
European countries are extremely wary of Russia’s relationship with China, with President Xi Jinping declaring a “no-limits” partnership with Putin at the 2022 Winter Olympics, weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine.
But as Beijing looks to repair fragmented relationships, fears are growing that China may be playing both sides, amidst reports that it has secretly sent a massive arms shipment of sophisticated anti-aircraft systems to Serbia in a veiled operation.
According to media and military experts, six Chinese Air Force Y-20 transport planes carrying HQ-22 surface-to-air missile systems, touched down at Nikola Tesla airport, Belgrade, earlier this month.
Online magazine, The Warzone, noted the appearance of the Y-20s was concerning as these aircraft flew en masse as opposed to a series of single-aircraft flights.
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Last month, the EU stated that it has “very reliable evidence” that China is considering offering Russia military support.
Speaking to POLITICO, the senior EU official added: “We are concerned about the fact that China is flirting with the Russians.”
He also said if that Beijing decides to aid Moscow in this way, then the EU will “impose trade barriers against China” as “this is the only language Beijing understands”.