Exclusive: China canceled EU leader’s video speech at major trade expo opening

BEIJING/BRUSSELS, Nov 8 (Reuters) – Chinese authorities behind a major trade exhibition in Shanghai have canceled the European Council president’s opening speech which was to criticize Russia’s “illegal war” in Ukraine and call for a reduction in the EU’s trade dependence on China, diplomats said.

Charles Michel’s pre-recorded video was meant to be one of many videos of 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 cannot be named due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters they were surprised the speech was deleted.

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

None of the expo’s co-organizers, China’s Ministry of Commerce and the Shanghai city government, responded to Reuters requests for comment. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson denied knowledge of the matter.

“I am not aware of the situation in question,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. “I can’t comment on that.”

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

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

FOCUS ON RUSSIA AND TRADE

The speech by the President of the European Council was to be very critical of “Russia’s illegal war against Ukraine” and to say that Europe is learning “important lessons” from it, according to extracts from the speech provided by EU diplomats.

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

“In Europe, we want a balance in our trade relations… to avoid over-dependencies,” according to diplomats familiar with his remarks. “This also applies to our trade relations with China.”

Michel was also to call on China to do more to end the bloodshed in Ukraine.

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

“China has a role to play in using its influence to stop Russia’s brutal war … through your so-called ‘limitless’ partnership with Russia,” Michel was to say, referring to a pact announced by Xi and Putin in Beijing before the war began. “You, China, can help end this.”

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 senior officials of the European Union whose role includes representing the bloc at international summits and bilateral summits with other heads of state.

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

The EU’s foreign policy service said in an article 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: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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