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China’s Xi, Europe leaders said to plan talks as tensions flare

CHINA’s Xi Jinping is expected to speak this week with Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron, people with knowledge of the matter said, as they attempt to keep human rights disputes from scuttling efforts at cooperation.

The agenda for the joint video call between the leaders isn’t yet known, according to the people, who asked not to be named since the information isn’t public. The French and German leaders have held similar discussions with Mr. Xi in the past, including a Dec. 30 call with top European Union (EU) officials that resulted in a now-stalled investment agreement.

China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment. Officials with the French and German governments didn’t confirm that the call would go ahead.

China-EU ties have frayed this year amid an upsurge in negative views toward Beijing in Europe and US President Joseph R. Biden’s effort to press traditional American allies to make a united defense of democracy and human rights. China’s crackdown on its Uyghur minority in Xinjiang has emerged as a key point of tension, with the two sides sanctioning each other’s officials and EU lawmakers in May halting ratification of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment.

The two sides have also clashed over Group of Seven (G7) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization statements expressing concern about China’s challenge to the established global order. Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron have advocated a middle ground with China, whose cooperation is vital to global efforts to fight climate change and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Mr. Macron hosted a climate-focused call with Ms. Merkel and Mr. Xi in April, days before a wider climate summit hosted by Mr. Biden. At the time, the European leaders welcomed Mr. Xi’s renewed commitment for China to achieve CO2 neutrality by 2060. The trio also discussed the coronavirus pandemic and global vaccine availability.

China accounted for almost $700 billion of trade with the European Union last year, and Mr. Macron is said to be keen to give a new push to the interests of the aviation company Airbus SE. The Europeans also want China to ease travel restrictions into China for EU citizens, especially business people.

Last month, the G7, which includes France and Germany, joined the EU and the US in pushing for a fresh World Health Organization probe into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Chinese diplomats have lashed out against such calls, which Beijing has dismissed as a US-led effort to shift the blame for its own struggle to contain the virus last year.

Still, the Uyghur issue has been the most contentious, with China denying claims it forced ethnic Muslims into internment camps, work programs and birth-control initiatives. A French prosecutor’s office has launched a probe into whether Claudie Pierlot parent SMCP SA, Zara owner Inditex SA, Skechers and Uniqlo profited from exploiting forced labor in China to manufacture fashion products.

Mr. Xi has signaled a defiant stance toward what Beijing views as foreign interference, saying in a nationally televised speech to mark the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party that China would no longer listen to “sanctimonious preaching.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi echoed that sentiment Saturday at a forum in Beijing, in which he accused the US and its allies of holding onto a “Cold War mentality.”

“Today’s China is no longer the same country of 100 years ago,” Mr. Wang told the World Peace Forum, which was organized by Tsinghua University and the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, a government-run policy group. “No individual or force should underestimate the determination and capacity of the Chinese people to uphold the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests.”

During a panel discussion at the same forum, leading European diplomats called on China to listen to international concerns. Caroline Wilson, the UK’s ambassador to China, told the panel Sunday that human rights issues were “foundational matters” and not tools in a geopolitical game.

Nicolas Chapuis, the European Union’s ambassador, expressed “dismay” in China’s more aggressive approach. “Effective multilateralism implies that all nations, big and small, sit at the same table with the same rights, and most importantly, accept peer review in a tolerant and constructive manner,” Mr. Chapuis said.

The Italian ambassador to China, Luca Ferrari, said on the Sunday panel that the sanctions have been the “main shadow” on the relationship between Beijing and the EU. He called on China to relook at the sanctions to “come out of this conundrum.” — Bloomberg

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