China has confirmed that its foreign minister will visit Europe next week, just two days after the European Commission labelled it a “systemic” and economic rival.
Wang Yi will arrive in Brussels next Monday to attend the ninth China-European Union High-level Strategic Dialogue, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Thursday.
Wang is expected to discuss ways to promote multilateralism and finalise the agenda for next month’s China-EU summit.
“We believe that the two sides will have a full and in-depth exchange of views on issues of common concern between China and the EU, international and regional affairs, and explore ways to strengthen dialogue and cooperation in various fields between China and Europe,” Lu said.
“China-EU relations have maintained a sound momentum of development and cooperation in many areas and have achieved some fruitful outcomes. The two sides also have a consistent position and common aspirations in maintaining multilateralism.”
But the visit will take place amid calls from Brussels for a tougher stance from the bloc towards China, its biggest trading partner after the United States.
In a paper released on Tuesday, the commission urged EU leaders to adopt a 10-point action plan that would establish a more balanced and reciprocal relationship with China in areas such as trade and technology.
In the document China was for the first time labelled an “economic competitor” by Brussels and “a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance”.
In response to the commission’s report, the ministry’s spokesman said on Wednesday that China wanted to deepen its “strategic partnership” with the EU.
However, the partnership, first established in 2013, has come under strain in recent years due to disagreements over China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, access to the Chinese market for foreign firms and the role of the telecoms giant Huawei in European communications networks.
“I want to emphasise … that we hope the European side can view China’s development and the new round of reform and opening-up in an objective, reasonable and unbiased way, and see more opportunities from China’s further development,” Lu said.
Wang’s trip to Brussels will precede a visit to Rome and Pairs by President Xi Jinping later in the week.
Xi will visit Italy, which this week became the first G7 country to say it would sign up to the Belt and Road Initiative, on March 22 and 23 before heading to France.
Xi is likely to try to use the visit to cement ties with the European leaders amid the heightened competition between China and the US.
It was initially expected that Xi would then head to the United States to finalise a deal with Donald Trump to end the trade war between the two sides.
However, it now appears more likely that the visit will be pushed back by at least a month as the two sides have yet to reach a deal on some of their major areas of disagreement and Trump said on Wednesday that he was “in no rush” to complete a trade deal with China.
Luca Jahier, President of the European Economic and Social Committee, said the EU was reluctant to “gang up” on America with China despite calls to provide a counterweight to the Trump administration’s unilateral and protectionist trade policies.