China’s Xi vows to build ‘bridges’ with Europe despite political strains

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to build “bridges” with Europe during a meeting with Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo in Beijing, just as China’s defense ministry warned it would “crush” independence movements in Taiwan.

“Facing the turbulent international situation, more ‘bridges’ need to be built between China and Europe. The two sides should cooperate more closely … and jointly promote world peace, stability, and prosperity,” Xi said, according to a readout published by the Chinese government after the meeting with De Croo.

The call for a rapprochement from Xi comes just before hotly contested elections in Taiwan — which China sees as a breakaway region — and as China’s defense ministry warned it would “crush” independence efforts on the island just before Saturday’s vote. The tight race pits the Democratic Progressive Party, which is a proponent of Taipei’s sovereignty, against the Kuomintang party, which takes a friendlier approach to Beijing.

China and the EU have been at odds over issues such as the war in Ukraine and economic disputes, with European companies getting caught in trade rifts between the United States and China.

Xi’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said on Thursday that he hoped that Belgium, which recently took over the presidency of the Council of the EU, would help foster closer cooperation between China and Europe, while calling for “new prospects,” a “new beginning” and “a new journey” in relations between China and Belgium and China and the EU.

“I hope Belgian diplomats in China will continue to work as a bridge and as a bond. Tell China the story of a diverse Belgium. Tell Belgium and Europe the true story of China,” Wang told De Croo and Belgian foreign affairs chief, Hadja Lahbib, during a reception at the Belgium embassy in Beijing.

Belgium’s De Croo was received in great fanfare by the Chinese leadership during his two-day state visit to China, which culminated on Friday afternoon with a meeting with Xi. The Belgian leader earlier met with Premier Li Qiang and National People’s Congress Chairman Zhao Leji.

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