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China pulls Charles Michel video speech at major trade expo

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The Chinese organisers of a major trade expo in Shanghai pulled a pre-recorded message by the European Council president that was reportedly critical of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the bloc’s trade dependency on China.

“As requested by the Chinese authorities, we had indeed provided a pre-recorded message which was ultimately not shown,” Charles Michel’s spokesman, Barend Leyts, confirmed to Euronews.

“We have addressed this through the normal diplomatic channels,” he added. 

According to the Reuters news agency, Michel’s video address for the opening ceremony of the China International Import Expo (CIIE) on Friday was expected to say that “China has a role in using its influence to stop Russia’s brutal war… through your so-called “no-limits” partnership with Russia.” 

“You, China, can help put an end to this,” he also was to say.

Beijing has so far refused to condemn Russia’s illegal war in Ukraine or support measures at the United Nations level. 

On the issue of trade, Michel was tipped to tell that expo that “in Europe, we want balance in our trade relations… to avoid over-dependencies” and that “this is also true of our trade relations with China,” three European diplomats told Reuters under cover of anonymity.

The news agency reached out to the co-organisers of the expo, China’s commerce ministry and the Shanghai city government, but received no reply. The foreign ministry, meanwhile, denied awareness of the issue.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was among those who did speak during the opening ceremony alongside the leaders of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Belarus, a staunch ally of Russia, and the heads of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.

The opening ceremony was held on the same day Xi received Olaf Scholz in Beijing. 

The German Chancellor’s one-day trip had been harshly criticised in Europe for its emphasis on business ties between the two countries despite the global geopolitical situation, Beijing’s growing assertiveness in the region and over Hong Kong and Taiwan, and widely differing views on human rights. 

His trip came two weeks after the EU’s 27 leaders held strategic talks on China at their gathering in Brussels in which they reaffirmed the bloc’s stance that China is a partner on certain global issues such as climate change, but also a competitor and systemic rival. They also stressed that the EU can no longer be “naive” about China.

Michel had told reporters at the end of the two-day summit that when it comes to Beijing, “we will always firmly stand up for the principles of democracy and fundamental freedoms”, and that “we need to work towards ensuring greater reciprocity and rebalancing, especially in the economic relations”.

He also flagged that the EU’s “technological dependencies”, including on China, had created “some vulnerabilities.”

Michel and Xi are both expected to attend the G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, on November 15 and 16.

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