BEIJING/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The Chinese authorities behind a major trade fair in Shanghai have withdrawn an opening speech by the president of the European Council that was due to criticize Russia’s “illegal war” in Ukraine and call for a reduction in the European Union’s trade dependency with China. Diplomats said.
Three European diplomats told Reuters that the pre-recorded video by Charles Michel was supposed 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. .
The diplomats, whose names have not been released due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters they were surprised that the letter was cancelled.
“President Michel has been invited to speak at the Fifth Hongqiao Forum/CIIE in Shanghai,” spokesman Michael Barend Letts told Reuters. “At the request of the Chinese authorities, we have already submitted a pre-recorded message which eventually did not appear. We have addressed this through normal diplomatic channels.”
None of the fair’s co-organizers, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the Shanghai city government, did not respond to Reuters requests for comment. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman denied knowledge of the case.
“I am not aware of the relevant situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press conference in Beijing on Tuesday. “I cannot comment on this.”
Other dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony after Xi included the director-general 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 exhibition’s official website.
Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko is a staunch ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his country has hosted thousands of Russian soldiers before and during what Moscow calls its “special operation” in Ukraine.
Focus on Russia and Trade
The European Council president’s speech was highly critical of Russia’s “illegal war against Ukraine” and said Europe was learning “important lessons” from it, according to extracts from the speech delivered by EU diplomats.
Michel was saying that Europe was over-reliant on Russia for fossil fuels, which led to a trade imbalance.
According to diplomats familiar with what he will say, “In Europe, we want balance in our trade relations…to avoid excessive dependencies.” This also applies to our trade relations with China.”
Michel was also willing to call on China to do more to end 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.
Michel said, referring to the agreement that Xi and Putin announced in Beijing before the war began. “You, China, can help put an end to this.”
Xi and Michel are expected to attend and meet at the G20 Leaders Summit in Bali next Tuesday and Wednesday.
The President of the European Council is one of the EU’s top officials, and his role includes representing the bloc at international summits and bilateral summits with other heads of state.
Since 2019, the European Union has officially considered China a partner, economic competitor and systemic competitor.
The European Union’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 Quinn Pollard in Beijing and Jan Strubchevsky in Brussels); Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista in Beijing. Editing by Lincoln Fest and Gareth Jones
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