BEIJING – China has denied that it is aiding Russia to get around punishing sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries, a day after European Union leaders warned Beijing of economic and reputational costs for such help.

A senior diplomat on Saturday (April 2) told reporters that Beijing opposes the sanctions, which may have a spillover effect on the rest of the world.

“We are not doing anything deliberately to circumvent sanctions imposed on Russia by Americans and Europeans,” Mr Wang Lutong, who heads the foreign ministry’s European affairs department, reportedly said at a press briefing held after Friday’s EU-China summit.

There have been nagging fears that China could give military and economic assistance to Russia, which it has called its “most important strategic partner”.

The EU, in its virtual meetings with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, had urged the Chinese leaders to use their influence to end the war in Ukraine, and said China would suffer serious reputational damage in Europe if it was found to be supporting Moscow.

“The business sector is watching very closely the events and evaluating how countries are positioning themselves. This is a question of trust, of reliability and of course of decisions on long-term investments,” said European Commission president Dr Ursula von der Leyen at a press conference after the summit.

Pushing back pressure on Saturday, Mr Wang reportedly said since China is not a party to the crisis, “we don’t think our normal trade with any other country should be affected”.

“Even Europe has been conducting normal business with Russians,” he was reported to have said. “We are contributing to the global economy by maintaining normal trade (with Russia), to avoid any possible disruption of the supply and industrial chains.”

China is Russia’s top trading partner, with trade volumes reaching US$147 billion (S$199 billion) last year based on Chinese customs figures. But this is still only less than one-tenth of its total trade with the US and the EU.

US President Joe Biden had piled on similar pressure as the Europeans did during his video call with President Xi two weeks ago, warning of repercussions should Beijing enable Moscow.

But while China has sought to blame the US as the “culprit” in the war and for “adding fuel to the fire”, it has, at the same time, tried to convince the EU not to fall under American influence.

Editorials in two of its main state media publications on Saturday accused the US of creating divisions and “political manipulation”.

“Washington is neither willing to see reconciliation between Europe and Russia through talks, nor win-win cooperation between China and Europe, because it realises its strategic interests through sacrificing the EU,” said an editorial in the Global Times.

“In this regard, Europe urgently needs to clarify its interests, form an independent cognition, adhere to an independent policy, and should not easily fall into the quagmire of a ‘new cold war’.”

Another piece in China Daily accused the bloc of “quickly downgrading itself into an expendable piece on Washington’s geopolitical chessboard”, saying this has led to soured ties with China and an all-out confrontation with Russia.