Exclusive: China cancels EU leader’s video address at major trade expo opening

BEIJING/BRUSSELS, Nov 8 (Reuters) – Chinese authorities behind a major trade expo in Shanghai have pulled out of an opening speech by the president of the European Council that was set to criticize Russia’s “illegal war” in Ukraine and call to reduce the EU’s trade dependence on China. , said the diplomat.

The pre-recorded video of Charles Michel is meant to be one of several world leaders and heads of international organizations, including Chinese President Xi Jinping, at the opening of the China International Import Expo (CIIE) on Friday, three European diplomats told Reuters. .

The diplomats, who could not be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters they were surprised the speech had been deleted.

“President Michel was invited to address the 5th Hongqiao/CIIE Forum in Shanghai,” Barend Leyts, Michel’s spokesman told Reuters. “As requested by the Chinese authorities, we have indeed provided a pre-recorded message which was ultimately not shown. We have requested this through normal diplomatic channels.”

Neither the expo’s organizers, China’s commerce ministry nor Shanghai’s municipal government, responded to Reuters’ requests for comment. A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry denied any awareness of the matter.

“I am not aware of the relevant circumstances,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. “I cannot comment on this.”

Other dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony after Xi included the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, the director general of the World Trade Organization and the presidents of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Belarus, according to the expo’s official website.

Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his country has received thousands of Russian troops before and during what Moscow calls “special operations” in Ukraine.

FOCUS ON RUSSIA AND TRADE

The European Council president’s speech is set to be highly critical of Russia’s “illegal war against Ukraine” and to say that Europe learned “important lessons” from it, according to excerpts of the address provided by EU diplomats.

Europe has become dependent on Russia for fossil fuels, leading to a trade imbalance, Michel said.

“In Europe, we want balance in our trade relations … to avoid over-dependencies,” according to diplomats familiar with what he said. “This is also true of our trade relationship with China.”

Michel is also set to call on China to do more to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine.

China has consistently refused to criticize Russia’s aggression, which has devastated cities across Ukraine and killed thousands of soldiers and civilians since it began on February 24.

“China has a role in using its influence to stop Russia’s brutal war … through your so-called “unlimited” partnership with Russia,” Michel said, referring to the pact announced by Xi and Putin in Beijing earlier. the war begins. “You, China, can help stop this.”

Both Xi and Michel are expected to attend and meet at the Group of Twenty (G20) Heads of State Summit in Bali next Tuesday and Wednesday.

The President of the European Council is one of the highest officials of the European Union whose role is to represent the bloc at international summits and bilateral meetings with other heads of state.

Since 2019, the EU has officially regarded China as a partner, economic competitor and systemic rival.

The EU’s foreign policy service said in a paper last month that Beijing should now be seen primarily as a competitor promoting an “alternative vision of the world order”.

Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard in Beijing and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels; Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista in Beijing; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Gareth Jones

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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