BRUSSELS: EU chief Charles Michel will head to Beijing next week for a meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping, a European official told AFP on Thursday.
The official, confirming a report in the Financial Times, said the European Council president’s December 1 visit would be formally announced later Thursday.
The trip comes amid a lively debate between EU capitals as to how to handle relations with China, amid concerns over Beijing’s rights record, trade pressure on some EU countries and support for Russia.
The United States is pushing its Western allies to align themselves against China, but some EU members with important trade links resist splitting world affairs into two camps.
Michel walks a line between Germany, with its important economic interests in China, and EU members like Lithuania.
EU capitals have also been concerned by China’s bond with Russia, even in the wake of Moscow’s invasion and bombardment of Western-backed Ukraine.
Earlier this month at an ASEAN summit in Phnom Penh, just ahead of the G20 summit at which Xi met US President Joe Biden, Michel urged Beijing to push Russia to respect international law.
“We encourage the Chinese authorities to use all the means at their disposal to convince Russia to respect internationally recognised borders, to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine,” Michel told AFP at the time.
Also this month, in an incident that underlined the tensions between Brussels and Beijing, a speech that Michel had been scheduled to broadcast at a Chinese trade fair was cancelled.
European diplomats told AFP that China had sought to censor a video speech from Michel for the China International Import Expo (CIIE) and that Brussels had preferred to pull it.
One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said authorities had wanted to censor all reference to the war in Ukraine, a sensitive issue for Beijing.
China seeks to position itself as neutral over the conflict but has offered diplomatic backing to its strategic ally Russia.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met Xi in China on November 4 to push for greater economic cooperation and more equal trade ties, despite his fellow EU leaders’ misgivings.