28th May 2022

China sends friendly face on EU tour

  • The panda bear is a national symbol of China. Liu: 'We need to ... avoid imposing [our views] on others' (Photo: Stefan)

The friendly face of the Chinese regime will on Friday (24 June) start an EU peregrination designed to strengthen economic and political relations amid the union's sovereign debt crisis.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, the number three man in the Communist party hierarchy and a leading figure on economic policy, will visit Budapest before going on to London at the weekend and will end his five day trip in Berlin next week.

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Wen will in Hungary, the current EU presidency, meet with Prime Minister Viktor Orban and go to a China-Central-and-Eastern-Europe trade fair.

In the UK, he is to talk with British leader David Cameron and visit the MG Motor factory in Birmingham, a Chinese-owned car maker. The two sides are also expected to sign nine memorandums of understanding on co-operation in several areas, including banking, mineral exploration and trade.

In Germany, he will meet Chancellor Angela Merkel, launch a new bilateral "consultation mechanism" and a joint ecological park, and potentially unveil Chinese investments in the German pharmaceutical and electronics sectors.

The trip comes after Wen's visits to Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain last year - sovereign-debt-risk eurozone economies in which China has invested a chunk of its €3 trillion foreign reserve fund.

China's ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, ahead of the premier's arrival in London pointed out that: "China did not sell any of its euro assets during the debt crisis, and instead lent a helping hand to Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy."

Chinese vice foreign minister Fu Ying last Friday in Beijing noted that: "We have supported ... European countries in their efforts to surmount the financial crisis. We have, for example, increased holdings of euro debt and promoted China-European-Union trade."

With China keen for the EU to drop its arms embargo and to tone down criticism on human rights, Wen's exertions have a political as well as an economic motive.

Timothy Garton Ash, an Oxford University expert on international relations, wrote in The Guardian on Friday that China expects a "political pay off" for putting its money into risky eurozone bonds: "It is not too cynical to see Beijing building up a kind of China lobby inside the decision-making structures of the EU, where the smallest state is at least notionally equal to the biggest."

The 68-year-old Wen is considered to be the friendly face of China.

He is known for adroit handling of tricky press questions and is popular with government-critical young people in China - Human Rights Watch in a recent report noted that state censors have in the past blanked out his remarks on the need for reform.

China two days before the EU tour also released - after a forced confession and on bail - dissident artist Ai Weiwei in a move greeted warmly by EU leaders.

For his part, Liu, China's ambassador to the UK, noted: "We need to be open-minded, to abandon the Cold War mentality and to avoid imposing [our views] on others."

The public relations effort will not easily mask the fact China has in the past three years embarked one of the most severe crackdowns in its modern history, with repression intensifying still more in reaction to the Arab Spring.

EU diplomats in human rights consultations in Beijing one week ago asked for information about abuses against ethnic Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians, as well as Christians and the Falun Gong spiritual movement. They also asked what happened to 300 Buddhist monks who were taken away en bloc from the Kirti monastery in Tibet in April.

The Free Tibet organisation has called for Londoners to join its protest outside Wen's hotel, The Mandarin, on Sunday, and outside Downing Street and the Royal Society, a scientific institute, on Monday.

"We are urging the British government to put human rights before trade in their growing engagement with China," the protest notice says.

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