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By Dave Clark
EU chief Charles Michel will meet President Xi Jinping in Beijing next week to seek help on ending Russia’s war on Ukraine and in rebalancing trade between China and Europe, officials said Thursday. online news
The president of the European Council, who represents EU leaders, has sought talks with Xi for months and was able to secure a date at last week’s G20 summit, they said.
“We will discuss global challenges as well as subjects of common interest,” Michel tweeted as he announced his trip.
A European official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said EU leaders had given Michel a mandate to speak to China at a debate on ties with Beijing at their summit last month.
He will meet Xi, China’s powerful leader, as well as Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Wu Bangguo, chairman of the standing committee of the Chinese People’s Congress.
At the top of his agenda are the threats to world stability posed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s own threat to seize Taiwan, which Beijing sees as Chinese territory.
A European official said it was critical for Europe that China not provide weapons to Russia and not help Moscow evade EU and US economic sanctions.
And he added that on Taiwan, that there was a need to “de-conflict” the situation.
“What is critical is that rules are the basis of our international order,” he said.
“What we want to pass to China is that we need a world where the UN is at the centre and both Russia’s aggression and possibly conflict around Taiwan are a true danger.”
On the economy, the official said Michel would pursue the goal of finding a way to reduce Europe’s trade deficit with China, which he estimated at 700 million euros per day.
“So that’s quite huge and we need to find ways to rebalance this,” he said.
The trip comes amid a lively debate between European Union capitals as to how to handle relations with a China which has become ever more assertive under Xi’s rule.
The United States is pushing its Western allies to align themselves against China. But some EU members with important trade links resist splitting world affairs into two camps.
Michel walks a line between Germany, with its important economic interests in China, and EU members like Lithuania, which has attracted Beijing’s anger by building links with Taiwan.
EU capitals have also been concerned by China’s bond with Russia, even in the wake of Moscow’s invasion and bombardment of Western-backed Ukraine.
Earlier this month at an ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, just ahead of the G20 summit at which Xi met US President Joe Biden, Michel urged Beijing to push Russia to respect international law.
Also this month, in an incident that underlined the tensions between Brussels and Beijing, a speech that Michel had been scheduled to broadcast at a Chinese trade fair was cancelled.
European diplomats told AFP that China had sought to censor a video speech from Michel for the China International Import Expo and that Brussels had preferred to pull it.
One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Chinese authorities had wanted to censor all reference to the war in Ukraine, a sensitive issue for Beijing.
China seeks to position itself as neutral over the conflict but has offered diplomatic backing to its strategic ally Russia.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met Xi in China on November 4 to push for greater economic cooperation and more equal trade ties, despite misgivings among his fellow EU leaders.
Beijing did not offer any immediate comment on Michel’s trip. Asked about it, a spokeswoman at China’s foreign ministry said only that “China will release information in due course”.
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