President Xi Jinping heads to Europe to push China's diplomatic influence
Four-nation tour, which will include Obama meeting, aimed at widening China's influence after year prioritising relations with Moscow
President Xi Jinping will use his upcoming European tour to push for a stronger global Chinese diplomatic presence following Beijing's focus on building ties with Moscow and other near neighbours over the past year, foreign ministry officials and diplomatic observers said.
The 11-day trip to four European nations which starts on Saturday will see Xi accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan. He is due to meet US President Barack Obama on the sidelines of a nuclear safety summit in The Hague early next week.
Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong said Xi and Obama would discuss the situation in Ukraine and seek to deepen two-way co-operation.
Li said China was concerned about Ukraine and has called for all parties involved to exercise restraint to alleviate tension. Beijing abstained from voting on a proposed UN Security Council resolution that condemned the Crimea referendum on joining Russia as illegal.
But Beijing is also expected to use Xi's trip to the Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium and the EU headquarters in the Belgian capital Brussels to highlight political and economic ties with Europe.
Xi will meet senior EU officials together with the leaders of the four European nations, said Deputy Foreign Minister Wang Chao. He said that trade, agriculture, financial and telecommunications deals were due to be signed.
But Wang denied that China had proposed for Xi to visit the Holocaust memorial in Berlin to contrast Germany's handling of its wartime past with that of Japan. "The development of bilateral ties between China and other nations is not targeted at any other third nation," he said.
China has focused on strengthening ties with its neighbours in the last 12 months. Xi's first foreign trip after taking office as president last March was to Moscow. He has visited countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
Cui Hongjian, director of European studies at the China Institute of International Studies, under the foreign ministry, said Beijing was now seeking to widen its political and economic influence beyond Asia.
"China will not just focus on one continent, and it is focusing more on Europe," Cui said. "The suspicions between China and Europe are not as serious as those between China and the US. China and Europe can put more stress on co-operation."