BEIJING/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The Chinese authorities behind a major trade fair in Shanghai withdrew an opening speech by the president of the European Council that was due to criticize Russia’s “illegal war” in Ukraine and call for less trade dependence on China. Diplomats said.
Three European diplomats told Reuters the pre-recorded video by Charles Michel was supposed to be one of several 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.
The diplomats, whose names have not been released due to the sensitivity of the matter, told Reuters they were surprised that the letter had been deleted.
“President Michel has been invited to speak at the Fifth Hongqiao Forum/CIIE in Shanghai,” spokesman Michael Barend Letts told Reuters. “At the request of the Chinese authorities, we have already submitted a pre-recorded message which eventually did not appear. We have addressed this through normal diplomatic channels.”
No one from the Chinese Foreign Ministry, the exhibition’s co-organizers, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the Shanghai city government did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
Other dignitaries who spoke at the ceremony after Xi included the director-general of the International Monetary Fund, the director-general of the World Trade Organization, and the presidents of Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Belarus, according to the exhibition’s official website.
Belarus’ Alexander Lukashenko is a staunch ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, whose country has hosted thousands of Russian soldiers before and during what Moscow calls a “special operation” in Ukraine.
The European Council president’s speech was to harshly criticize Russia’s “illegal war against Ukraine” and say Europe is learning “important lessons” from it, according to extracts from the speech provided by European diplomats.
Michel was saying that Europe was over-reliant on Russia for fossil fuels, which led to a trade imbalance.
“In Europe, we want a balance in our trade relations…to avoid excessive dependencies,” said diplomats familiar with what he would say. This also applies to our trade relations with China.”
Michel was also willing to call on China to do more to end the bloodshed in Ukraine.
China has consistently refused to criticize Russia’s aggression that has devastated cities across Ukraine and killed thousands of soldiers and civilians since it began on February 24.
“China has a role in using its influence to stop Russia’s brutal war…through a so-called ‘borderless’ partnership with Russia,” Michel would say, referring to the agreement announced by Xi and Putin in Beijing before the war began… “You, China, You can help put an end to this.”
Xi and Michel are expected to attend and meet at the G20 leaders’ summit in Bali next Tuesday and Wednesday.
The President of the European Council is one of the EU’s top officials, and his role includes representing the bloc at international summits and bilateral summits with other heads of state.
Since 2019, the European Union has officially considered China a partner, economic competitor and systemic competitor.
The European Union’s Foreign Policy Service said in a paper last month that Beijing should now be seen primarily as a competitor promoting an “alternative vision of the world order”.
(Reporting by Martin Quinn Pollard in Beijing and Jan Strubchevsky in Brussels); Lincoln Fest Editing.
Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.