Von der Leyen presses Xi to rein in Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling

“President Xi has an important role to play to bring another voice into this constant nuclear threat that Russia has made repeatedly,” von der Leyen told reporters following a trilateral summit with Xi and French President Emmanuel Macron.

European Union leaders sought to enlist China’s help in defusing tensions over Russia’s thinly veiled nuclear threats against Ukraine and the West during talks in Paris on Monday.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she was “confident” Chinese President Xi Jinping could play an “important role” in de-escalating the crisis just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered nuclear drills by his forces near Ukraine.

“President Xi has an important role to play to bring another voice into this constant nuclear threat that Russia has made repeatedly,” von der Leyen told reporters following a trilateral summit with Xi and French President Emmanuel Macron.

The attempted lobbying of Beijing underscores global unease over Russia’s nuclear sabre-rattling as its war in Ukraine has stalled. Moscow insists its warnings over potential nuclear escalation are not a bluff, putting immense pressure on world powers like China to intervene.

In addition to the nuclear issue, von der Leyen said she also pressed Xi to use China’s influence to help halt Russia’s military onslaught in Ukraine, now in its second year. She stated that Beijing should “take seriously global responsibilities” given its status as a permanent UN Security Council member.

Both the EU and France have increasingly advocated for China to play a more constructive role in resolving the Ukraine crisis. However, Beijing has stopped short of outright condemning Moscow’s actions, instead calling for peace while avoiding assigning blame.

Trade and economic cooperation also loomed large during the talks in Paris. Von der Leyen reiterated that Europe must defend its “strategic interests” in its economic relationship with China, which has grown more adversarial in recent years.

For his part, Xi struck a more conciliatory tone, saying China would work with France and Europe on key issues like climate change. However, he drew a clear line on territorial disputes like Taiwan, vowing Beijing would “never leave any room for ‘Taiwan independence’ forces in whatever form.”

With Russia seemingly digging in for a protracted conflict in Ukraine, the Paris summit may signal an attempt by European powers to peel China away from Moscow and exert more economic and political pressure on Putin. Whether Beijing proves willing to change tack remains to be seen.