China’s Xi on first Europe tour as Ukraine crisis deepens

By on Monday, March 24th, 2014

China’s President Xi Jinping touches down in the Netherlands on Saturday for his first-ever Europe tour, with the continent in a diplomatic frenzy after Russia’s absorption of the Crimea.

Xi is expected to land at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport shortly after noon (1100 GMT), where he’ll be welcomed by Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima as the start of his state visit.

He will be accompanied by his wife, several ministers, including trade, and some 200 top business delegates.

Xi arrives ahead of a G7 meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague next week, where US President Barack Obama will discuss the escalating showdown with Russia over Crimea.

President Vladimir Putin’s absorption of Crimea from Ukraine has seen harsh criticism and sanctions leveled by members of the Group of Seven most-industrialized countries.

Xi is expected to meet Obama on the sidelines of the NSS, organized to fight nuclear terrorism, but which now risks being overshadowed by the escalating crisis in Ukraine.

While analysts say Xi is unlikely to speak out on Ukraine, they believe that China cannot remain a diplomatic bystander forever.

Chinese vice foreign minister Li Baodong has also acknowledged the situation in the Ukraine could come up in the meeting with Obama, but signaled Beijing’s likely position by reiterating its regular call for “calm and restraint”.

Xi’s four-country trip comes a week after China lodged a rare abstention on a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning Crimea’s referendum, rather than vetoing it alongside with Russia.

Apart from Obama, Xi is to meet French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on his trip, which ends in Belgium on April 1.

The 28-member EU is China’s biggest trading partner but ties have been strained at times, most recently last year by mutual dumping accusations over Chinese solar panels and European wine, in which interests of individual EU countries sometimes differed.

Beijing said on Friday that it would end an anti-dumping probe into wine imports from the EU after it said a deal had been reached between producers.

Xi’s visit to EU headquarters in Brussels on March 31 will be the first by a Chinese president, according to the EU.

The visit to France, meanwhile, is partially to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment in 1964 of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Paris.

Xi is scheduled to make a major speech in Paris highlighting historical bonds such as the experiences of Communist Party luminaries Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, who both studied in France.

In the Netherlands, which has seen growing exports to China worth 7.6 billion euros ($10.4 bn) in 2012, Xi will have talks with Premier Mark Rutte on Sunday before visiting a Sino-Dutch economic forum later in the day.

The two-day Nuclear Security Summit kicks off on Monday.

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