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China’s Xi and EU’s Michel call for Ukraine de-escalation at meeting

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European Council President Charles Michel called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to exert his influence over Russia to end its war on Ukraine.

The meeting between the two men in Beijing on Thursday lasted more than three hours and also touched upon human rights, Taiwan, trade relations and climate change.

“I urged President Xi, as we did at our EU China summit in April, to use his influence on Russia to respect the UN charter,” Michel told a press conference.

His spokesman had earlier said that “both leaders stressed that nuclear threats are irresponsible and highly dangerous.”

Xi was quoted by state broadcaster CCTV as saying that “solving the Ukrainian crisis through political means is in the best interest of Europe and the common interest of all countries in Eurasia.”

“Under current conditions, we must avoid escalation and expansion of the crisis and work for peace,” Xi said.

Michel’s one-day visit to China also saw him meet Prime Minister Li Kepiang and the chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress Li Zhanshu.

It comes six weeks after the 27 leaders of the European Union held a three-hour-long strategic discussion on China, sparked by the country’s refusal to condemn Russia’s war on Ukraine, the growing trade deficit to the benefit of Beijing, and the realisation that the bloc is highly dependent on China for technology and raw materials.

Other concerns include the security implications of Chinese investments in the bloc’s critical infrastructure, China’s assertiveness in the region, and in particular its rhetoric on Taiwan, as well as Xi’s reelection to a third unprecedented term.

But it also came at a sensitive time for the Chinese leadership as protests against China’s zero COVID policy have swept through the country after the death of ten people in a building fire in Urumqi in the western Xinjiang region was blamed by many on stringent COVID measures.

These protests are the largest show of public dissent in decades.

Michel told reporters that the two men discussed the protests “and the acceptance by society of the (anti-COVID) measures”. He also stressed that the right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

He added that he “shared the European experience” of dealing with COVID with Xi, and its emphasis on vaccination and that “European companies are available to provide vaccines if those vaccines are authorised” by Chinese authorities.

They also pledged to resume the EU–China Human Rights Dialogue with Michel affirming to journalists that he also raised “the situation of minorities” in China, and in particular in Xinjiang.

“This is not about interfering in internal affairs, it’s about upholding the principles agreed by the United Nations for decades,” he said.

On trade, Michel stressed that a key issue for EU leaders is the rebalancing of the relationship and “set out the difficulties faced by EU companies and investors, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

“The Presidents discussed the EU’s restrictive measures on China as well as the measures taken by China against the EU,” according to Leyts.

Xi, meanwhile, told Michel that he hoped “EU institutions and member states will establish an objective and correct perception of China”, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

“China will remain open to European companies, and hopes the EU can eliminate interference to provide a fair and transparent business environment for Chinese companies,” the Chinese leader also told Michel. 

Michel’s trip came a month after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made the journey with a group of business leaders drawing criticism from his fellow EU leaders.

But an EU official insisted last week that he had “a clear mandate on what our China policy should be.”

“What we think is needed is a new impetus on the relationship and to check what has changed and what are the new parameters,” the official added.

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