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25th May 2019

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No time for press at 'globally important' EU-China meeting

In a room behind closed doors in the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, the EU and China on Wednesday (18 April) declared their mutual intent to bolster cultural ties between average people.

"Both sides would like to upgrade their co-operation ... to enhance international understanding and friendship through educational, cultural and humanitarian activities involving the exchange of ideas and experiences," the joint declaration, signed by EU education and culture commissioner Androulla Vassiliou and China's state councillor Liu Yandong, says.

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  • Liu (l) and Vassiliou. 'The Chinese are very attached to protocol,' an EU official said (Photo: European Commission)

"Deepening understanding and mutual trust [is] vital to EU-China relations," it adds.

The scheme makes it easier for Chinese and European students, academics and artists to work overseas by boosting mutual recognition of qualifications and subsidising language training.

At a day-long forum with Chinese officials and academics from both sides of the globe, Vassiliou said: "our work here today is of the highest global importance."

Despite the top billing, there was no press conference to let journalists quiz China's top delegate, state councillor Liu Yandong - one of the 24 members of the Politburo, the governing body of the Communist Party, which includes President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

Liu's visit comes amid one of the biggest scandals in the contemporary history of Chinese politics.

He former Politburo colleague, Bo Xilai, was removed from his post earlier this month and his wife was charged with the murder of a British businessman who is suspected of helping them transfer large sums of money abroad.

EUobserver understands that the Chinese delegation was reluctant to meet the Brussels press corps amid efforts to stop talk about division in its top ranks. "The Chinese are very attached to protocol," one EU official told this website.

Speaking on the record, Chinese diplomat Wang Xining blamed lack of time. Vassiliou spokesman Dennis Abbott said there was no press event "for logistical reasons."

It is not the first time that the commission and Chinese VIPs have side-stepped media in the EU capital.

In November 2010, EU officials tried to block four government-critical Chinese journalists from entering the EU Council building for a post-summit press conference for "security" reasons. They were let in after other reporters complained, but China cancelled the press event.

"The Chinese impose media censorship everywhere they go. But what surprised me was that it [happened] in the Council, an EU building," one of the Chinese reporters, Lixin Yang, told EUobserver at the time.

An EU official later admitted the affair was "embarassing."

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