Charles Michel leaves for Beijing in the midst of turbulence

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Charles Michel leaves for Beijing in the midst of turbulence

A move deemed “inappropriate” by some. European Council President Charles Michel left for Beijing on Tuesday evening, where he will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, faced with demonstrations of historic proportions against health restrictions and for more freedoms. “Charles Michel was invited by President Xi. When we are invited by the Chinese president, do we say no? “, underlined a European official. China’s “zero Covid” policy, with its draconian lockdowns, has been the target of large-scale protests in several cities across China in recent days, the most widespread protest movement since the harshly suppressed pro-democracy mobilizations in China. 1989, leading China’s main security body to call on Tuesday for the “repression” of “hostile forces”.

The President of the European Council (the institution representing the member states of the EU) will arrive in the Chinese capital on Wednesday, before meeting Thursday with Xi Jinping, Prime Minister Li Keqiang and the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress ( ANP), Wu Bangguo. His visit, which comes after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz traveled to Beijing in early November, follows the “strategic debate on China” held by EU heads of state and government during a summit in October, said the European official.

Charles Michel “was mandated by the Twenty-Seven and he followed up on a personal invitation from President Xi” during the last G20 summit, he underlined. He will “defend the interests of the EU” during his talks, “he will address the issues of human rights and fundamental freedoms” and “intends to have a frank dialogue” with Xi Jinping, he said. assured. “The timing of this visit is very well chosen because of the economic and energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine,” observed this official, according to whom Charles Michel “will urge President Xi to use his influence to put an end to to Russia’s aggression” and “explain to him the sanctions decided by the EU”. He should also mention the Covid-19 pandemic.

Intense discussions

The trip comes amid intense discussions among Europeans on how to position themselves against China, amid rising tensions between Washington and Beijing, and at a time when the EU is seeking to reduce its abysmal trade deficit with this Asian giant. The EU sees China as “a partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival”, according to the formulation adopted in 2019.

Their relations deteriorated after the adoption by the Twenty-Seven, in 2021, of sanctions following accusations of human rights violations in the Chinese region of Xinjiang. Charles Michel has to deal on the one hand with a country like Germany, which has important economic interests in China, and other Member States like Lithuania, which had drawn the wrath of Beijing by hosting a representation of Taiwan under its own name.

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