Chinese leader Xi Jinping urged negotiations on a political solution to the Ukraine conflict in talks with visiting European Council President Charles Michel in Beijing Thursday, state broadcaster CCTV said.

Xi was quoted as saying that “solving the Ukrainian crisis through political means is in the best interest of Europe and the common interest of all countries in Eurasia.”

“Under current conditions, we must avoid escalation and expansion of the crisis and work for peace,” Xi said.

China has made such statements repeatedly in the past, while refusing to condemn Russia’s invasion and criticizing sanctions against Moscow.

Weeks before the invasion, Xi and Russian leader Vladimir Putin affirmed their “no limits” relationship, and Beijing has stepped up oil purchases from Russia while their air forces held joint drills this week.

Michel said he urged Xi to “use his influence with Russia to respect the U.N. charter” and Ukraine’s sovereignty, and said they agreed that nuclear threats “are not acceptable and highly dangerous.”

Michel told reporters he also raised human rights issues, including the situation in Xinjiang, where Muslim minorities have been subject to what critics say is summary detention and forced assimilation to eradicate their traditional culture. China has rejected the accusations, saying it has been waging a campaign to eliminate terrorism, radicalism and extremism and provide job skills.

“This is not about interfering in internal affairs. It is about upholding the principles agreed by the United Nations for decades,” Michel said, adding that he welcomed plans to resume a China-EU human rights dialogue that has not been held for more than three years.

Michel also affirmed peaceful assembly as a fundamental right. China last weekend experienced its largest street protests in three decades as people in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities vented their anger over anti-COVID-19 lockdowns and other restrictions in place for the past three years. A police crackdown ensued and an unknown number of people were detained.

Michel referred to the protests, but it wasn’t clear whether he discussed them in depth with Chinese officials.

EU officials said Michel’s one-day visit was aimed at seeking a balance between the EU’s wish for more exports to China and the need to be firm with Beijing in the defense of democracy and fundamental freedoms.

We have reported earlier today that China has eased some of Covid restrictions after a nation-wide protests.

In recent years as China increased its global clout, the EU has increasingly come to see the nation as a strategic rival.

Michel’s visit is also an opportunity for the 27-member bloc to show a united front after German Chancellor OIaf Scholz made a solo visit to China in early November.

During that trip, Scholz urged China to exert its influence on Russia and raised human rights concerns. Michel will try to build on those discussions as the EU seeks to stand its ground against an increasingly assertive and authoritarian China.

The visit also comes amid high tensions over self-governing Taiwan, which China has threatened to invade, and follows a United Nations report that said China’s human rights violations against Uyghurs and other ethnic groups in its Xinjiang region may amount to crimes against humanity.
Increasing numbers of politicians from the European Parliament and EU member nations have been visiting Taiwan, sparking anger in Beijing. Lithuania’s decision to upgrade relations with Taipei prompted Beijing to freeze ties and ban trade with the Baltic nation.

At the same time, Michel is seeking to improve the EU’s economic standing in the world’s second largest economy, which has experienced significantly slower growth partly as a result of rigid anti-COVID-19 restrictions that also limited Michel’s visit to just one day.

The EU has an annual trade deficit in goods and services with China amounting to about 230 billion euros. It specifically seeks to reduce its dependence on China for tech equipment and the raw minerals used to make items such as microchips, batteries and solar panels.

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