• Xi will visit two pandas at a Belgian zoo to show his 'nice and civilised' side (Photo: Stefan)

Agenda

Chinese President in first-ever EU visit this WEEK

30.03.14 @ 11:32

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BERLIN - Hot on the heels of Barack Obama’s visit to the EU capital, Chinese President Xi Jinping will spend three days in Belgium this week.

He will meet top EU officials in Brussels on Monday (7 April) to discuss prospects for a China-EU free trade treaty, security co-operation, and global governance. He will also speak at the College of Europe in Bruges on Tuesday and visit two pandas, donated by China in February as “friendship envoys,” at a zoo in south-east Belgium.

His visit - the first ever by a Chinese head of state to the EU institutions - is part of a longer European tour including Paris, Berlin, and London.

He said in Paris that China, once described by Napoleon as a “sleeping lion,” is “awake, and it's peaceful, nice and civilised.” He said in Berlin he respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity and urged Russia to abide by international law.

But with EU countries still upholding a 25-year-old arms embargo on China, his ambassador to the EU noted ahead of the visit: “We have no illusion that our partnership will be an irritant-free one.” Meanwhile, NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, are urging the EU side to speak up for Chinese activists, including jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.

On Wednesday and Thursday, more than 60 heads of state and government are expected in Brussels to discuss trade, development, and aid at an EU-Africa summit.

Zimbabwe’s leader, Robert Mugabe, has stolen the headlines by boycotting the event in protest at EU countries’ refusal to grant his wife a visa.

He has called on fellow African Union states to stay away. EU officials say they are coming despite his appeal. But the EU also attracted criticism for inviting Egypt, even though its military junta killed more than 1,000 Muslim Brotherhood protesters after a coup d’etat last year, and just last week sentenced 529 brotherhood members to death.

Nato foreign ministers will hold a regular meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday - an event likely to focus on the Ukraine crisis.

The Russian leader over the weekend phoned the US President to say he wants a diplomatic solution. But his invasion of Crimea is likely to have far-reaching consequences for EU relations: On Wednesday, EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger will meet US secretary of state John Kerry in Brussels to discuss ways to reduce the Union’s gas dependence on Russia.

In other events, the European Commission will on Tuesday propose how to simplify visa procedures for non-Europeans to increase tourism. It says cutting red tape could see up to 60 percent more people come.

The European Parliment will on Thursday vote on capping credit and debit card fees for retailers. It will also vote on forcing internet firms to give equal access to competitors’ data, and on whether long-haul flights should be covered by an EU carbon-trading scheme.

Meanwhile, in EU candidate Turkey, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a test of his authority in local elections on Sunday.

He has sacked prosecutors, gagged judges, blocked Twitter and YouTube, and jailed and sued journalists to try to stop allegations of corruption in his inner circle getting traction. If his party does well in the vote, he is likely to become even more authoritarian, commentators warn.

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