22nd February 2024 – (Beijing) In a world increasingly fraught with geopolitical friction, the European Union’s latest decision to impose sanctions upon Chinese and Indian firms for their trade dealings with Russia represents a significant, albeit questionable, strategic manoeuvre. At the heart of this development lies a fundamental question: will these sanctions contribute to the resolution of the Ukraine conflict, or are they poised to deepen the fissures in international relations, particularly between the EU and China?

The European Union’s choice to follow the United States’ lead by sanctioning third-country firms is a testament to the bloc’s alignment with American foreign policy. The underlying assumption that economic pressure can effectively cripple Russia’s military operations has been belied by the protracted nature of the conflict. Nevertheless, EU policymakers have chosen to extend their sanction regime, adopting a strategy that has shown little success in changing the course of the war in Ukraine.

By sanctioning entities beyond its borders, the EU steps into a legal grey area that raises questions about its jurisdictional reach. The measures taken against Chinese and Indian companies represent an extraterritorial application of EU law that sits uncomfortably with principles of sovereign equality and non-interference. The logic underpinning these sanctions rests on tenuous ground and seems more an act of political theatre than a reasoned response to the complexities of global trade and diplomacy.

There is little to suggest that limiting the operations of selected Chinese firms will have a determinative impact on the conflict in Ukraine. Instead, these sanctions could well harm Europe’s own economic interests. In the intricate web of global trade, the EU risks cutting off the very ties that sustain its economies, especially at a time when Europe’s economic outlook is precarious.

The inclusion of Chinese firms in the EU’s sanctions list against Russia is unlikely to shift the military balance in Ukraine. Rather than serving as an effective tool of conflict resolution, this move might instead signal a deeper entrenchment of hostilities. A more constructive approach would involve dialogue and negotiation, aimed at finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict, rather than the amplification of economic warfare.

The Global Times, renowned for its nationalistic tenor and pro-China stance, posits that the EU’s actions reflect an intention to align with the US approach, despite the evident lack of success in curbing Russian resolve in the Ukraine conflict. This suggests the EU is driven by a sense of insecurity and a desire to weaken Russia’s position in Ukraine. Such a strategy, while influenced by the U.S., also reflects the EU’s proximity to the conflict and their continued attempt to isolate Russia economically and politically.

Academics from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, such as Associate Professor Ivan Popov, caution against overestimating the significance of the EU’s sanctions against Chinese companies. They suggest that this move does not necessarily reflect the overall sentiment of European bureaucrats, let alone the positions of individual EU member states. The sanctions are seen as symbolic, designed to appease the more hawkish elements within the EU influenced by U.S. policies.

The European Union’s latest round of sanctions against Chinese and Indian firms over their trade with Russia exemplifies a problematic approach to international relations. Rather than advancing the cause of peace in Ukraine, these measures risk further complicating the EU’s relationship with China, potentially leading to economic self-harm and diplomatic isolation.

The efficacy of sanctions as a tool to influence the outcome of the Russia-Ukraine conflict remains highly questionable. Meanwhile, the EU’s decision to expand its sanctions regime to include Chinese companies could unintentionally strengthen the Sino-Russian economic partnership, thereby undermining the very objectives the sanctions seek to achieve.

In the grand chessboard of international politics, the EU’s latest move may be more of a pawn’s gambit than a checkmate. The true measure of its success will not be found in the immediate impact on the sanctioned firms but in the long-term implications for Europe’s strategic autonomy and its complex relationship with China.