By Philip Blenkinsop and Yew Lun Tian

BRUSSELS/BEIJING (Reuters) – European and Chinese leaders meet on Friday for their first summit in two years. Brussels is keen for Beijing to ensure that it will not supply arms to Russia and will not help Moscow circumvent Western sanctions imposed following the invasion of Ukraine.

In unusually open language, EU officials familiar with summit preparations said any aid to Russia would damage China’s international reputation and jeopardize relations with its main trading partners, Europe and United States.

European Commission and European Council Presidents Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel will hold virtual talks with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and later President Xi Jinping.

An EU official said China’s stance on Russia would be the “million dollar question” on Friday. Another pointed out that more than a quarter of China’s global trade was with the bloc and the United States last year, compared with just 2.4% with Russia.

Political cartoons about world leaders

“Are we prolonging this war or are we working together to end this war? That’s the key question for the summit,” the official said.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated China’s call for peace talks this week, adding that the legitimate concerns of all parties should be taken into account.

Wang Yiwei, a Europe specialist at Renmin University in Beijing, said China and the EU want the war to end.

“I imagine that China would like to use this summit to discuss with the EU how to create acceptable conditions for Putin to leave his current position,” he said.

China itself fears that European countries are no longer taking their foreign policy inspiration from the United States and has called on the EU to “exclude all external interference” from its relations with China.

These relations were already strained.

The EU abruptly shifted in 2019 from soft diplomatic language to labeling China a systemic rival, but sees it as a potential partner in the fight against climate change or the pandemic.

Brussels and Beijing reached an investment agreement at the end of 2020, intended to address some EU concerns about reciprocal market access.

However, it is now suspended after Brussels sanctions against Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region prompted Beijing to blacklist individuals and EU entities.

China has since suspended imports from Lithuania after the Baltic nation allowed Taiwan to open a de facto embassy in its capital, angering Beijing which considers the democratically governed island its own territory.

(Additional reporting by Robin Emmott; Writing by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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