China’s Xi discusses trade, Russia and Taiwan with EU Michelle

BEIJING — China says President and ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping held talks with Charles Michel, the visiting European Council president, in Beijing on Thursday amid friction over trade, Russia and Taiwan.

The official Xinhua news agency did not provide details of Thursday’s talks. But EU officials say the one-day visit aims to strike a balance between the EU’s desire for more exports to China and the need to stand firm with Beijing in protecting democracy and fundamental freedoms.

In recent years, as China has increased its global influence, the EU has increasingly viewed the nation as a strategic rival.

Michel’s visit is also an opportunity for the 27-member bloc to show a united front, after German Chancellor OIaf Scholz paid an individual visit to China at the beginning of November.

During the trip, Scholz urged China to exert its influence over Russia and raised human rights concerns. Michel will try to build on those talks as the EU tries to stand up to an increasingly assertive and authoritarian China, which has tacitly backed Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine while challenging sanctions and expanding its footprint in the western Pacific.

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The visit comes amid high tensions over self-ruled Taiwan, which China has threatened to invade, and follows a UN report that says China’s human rights abuses against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in the Xinjiang region may amount to crimes against humanity.

More and more politicians from the European Parliament and EU member states are visiting Taiwan, which has caused anger in Beijing. Lithuania’s decision to improve ties with Taipei prompted Beijing to freeze ties and ban trade with the Baltic nation.

At the same time, Michel is seeking to improve the EU’s economic situation in the world’s second-largest economy, which has seen significantly slower growth, partly due to the rigid restrictions against COVID-19, which also limited Michel’s visit to just one day.

The EU has an annual trade deficit with China of around €230 billion in goods and services. It is specifically seeking to reduce its dependence on China for technological equipment and raw minerals used to make microchips, batteries and solar cells.

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