EU leader’s speech at major trade fair in China canceled: diplomats

EU leader’s speech at major trade fair in China canceled: diplomats


A speech by EU Council President Charles Michel, scheduled to be broadcast at the opening of a major Chinese trade fair, has been abruptly canceled due to censorship wrangling, diplomats told AFP on Tuesday.

The recorded video address was scheduled to be shown at the opening of the China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai on Friday, but Michel’s spokesman and three Beijing-based diplomats confirmed it was not broadcast.

“The Chinese wanted to censor parts of Charles Michel’s speech. Brussels preferred to cancel the speech altogether,” a European diplomat told AFP, asking for anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Another European diplomat said the Chinese authorities wanted to censor all parts of Michel’s speech on the Ukraine crisis, a sensitive issue for Beijing. China is trying to remain neutral on the crisis but has offered diplomatic support to its strategic ally Russia.

The second diplomat said the EU asked to discuss censorship, but the Chinese side refused, so the video address was dropped.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian denied any knowledge of the matter during a routine media briefing on Tuesday.

Michel’s spokesman Barend Leyts told AFP the EU leader had been invited to speak at the 5th Hongqiao Forum/CIIE in Shanghai.

“As requested by the Chinese authorities, we had indeed provided a pre-recorded message that was ultimately not shown,” Leyts said.

“We have raised this through normal diplomatic channels.”

China-EU relations have deteriorated rapidly since the two sides imposed sanctions over China’s alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region last year.

Beijing later imposed a trade embargo on virtually all Lithuanian goods in response to Vilnius’ deepening ties with Taiwan, a self-governing island that China claims as its own territory.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, European Union leaders have repeatedly urged China to condemn Moscow’s actions and withdraw its support for Russia, but to no avail.

The bloc officially views China as “partners, economic competitors and systemic rivals,” according to a formulation passed in 2019.

Michel, who is president of the EU body made up of the leaders of member states, will attend next week’s G20 summit in Bali alongside senior EU official Ursula von der Leyen and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Trade ties with China remain important for certain members of the bloc, with Chancellor Olaf Scholz last week becoming the first G7 leader to visit China in person since the start of the Covid pandemic.

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