Western analysts were surprised this week when the European Union's foreign policy chief was quoted by China as having described that country as "a peace-loving superpower." Officials in Brussels insist that he never said it.
The quote appeared in a statement put out by China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday following talks between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and EU Vice President Josep Borrell, who has been responsible for foreign and security policy in the 27-member bloc since December 2019.
Borrell was quoted as having told his Chinese counterpart that "China is a peace-loving superpower. [We] hope China will play a relevant role to encourage and enable cease-fire [in the Ukraine conflict] and push and promote the parties of conflict to step on a path of negotiation and political solution."
Western analysts such as Stuart Lau, the EU-China correspondent for Politico Europe, promptly called attention to the quote.
But when contacted by VOA, the EU press office in Washington suggested that the quote had been manufactured by China, which stands accused of parroting a number of Russian false statements about its two-week-old invasion of Ukraine.
Borrell, whose official title is high representative of the union for foreign affairs and security policy and vice president of the EU Commission, "never called China a 'peace-loving superpower,' " said a statement provided by the press office and attributed to "an EU official."
"We are only very well aware about their [China's] aggressive approach in South China Sea or internally," the statement said. "This is apparently somebody trying to put word[s] in his [Borrell's] mouth."
The message Borrell meant to convey, the EU statement added, was "to appeal on China's declared commitment to multilateralism and respect of UN Charter and for China to live up to these commitments [and] to deliver its contribution to stability and security in the world; in this case to use its influence (both in Moscow and in the U.N. Security Council) and stop [Russian President Vladimir] Putin."
Even before the latest fuss, Borrell had excited comment on social media by suggesting that no country was better positioned than China to pursue a negotiated end to the fighting in Ukraine.
"It has to be China," he was quoted as having told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo.
"There's no alternative. We [Europeans] cannot be the mediator, that is clear. … And it cannot be the U.S., either. Who else?"
While several analysts agreed that China has an important role to play in ending the war, others argued that China's robust support for the invasion to date should disqualify it from any mediation role.
Beijing "is very much part of the problem from the get-go," said Kevin Carrico, a lecturer on China at Monash University in Australia, in a phone interview with VOA. He described the notion of relying on Beijing to solve the crisis as reflecting an inability to see Chinese leaders as who they really are.