Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping starts Europe trip expected to be coloured by Crimea crisis

President arrives in Netherlands at the start of his first European tour, which is likely to be dominated by Russia's takeover of Ukraine territory

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 March, 2014, 10:59am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 March, 2014, 5:17am

President Xi Jinping touched down in the Netherlands yesterday for his first European tour, with the continent in a diplomatic frenzy after Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Xi was welcomed at Schiphol airport by King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima at the start of a four-country tour. He is accompanied by his wife, Peng Liyuan, and a 200-strong delegation of officials and businessmen.

Xi will hold talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and attend a Sino-Dutch business forum before meeting US President Barack Obama tomorrow.

The Chinese leader arrived ahead of a G7 meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague this week, in which Obama will address the escalating showdown with Russia over Crimea.

Deputy Foreign Minister Li Baodong has acknowledged the situation in Ukraine could come up in talks with Obama, but signalled Beijing's likely position by calling for "calm and restraint".

Xi's trip comes a week after China lodged a rare abstention on a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning Crimea's referendum on joining Russia, rather than vetoing it alongside Moscow.

Professor Jin Canrong, deputy dean of Renmin University's school of international relations, said Xi's major goal of the trip was to foster ties with Europe. But the crisis in Crimea might add some "unexpected twists" to an otherwise "very harmonious trip".

Apart from Obama, Xi is to meet French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on his trip, which ends in Belgium on April 1.

The EU is China's biggest trading partner but ties have been strained at times, most recently last year amid mutual accusations of dumping over Chinese solar panels and European wine. Beijing said on Friday it would end an anti-dumping probe into EU wine exports after a deal was reached between European wine producers.

Xi's visit to EU headquarters in Brussels on March 31 will be the first by a Chinese president.

The visit to France, meanwhile, is partially to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment in 1964 of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Paris.

Xi is scheduled to make a major speech in Paris highlighting historical bonds such as the experiences of Communist Party luminaries Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping , who both studied in France.

The Netherlands has seen growing exports to China, worth €7.6 billion (HK$81.3 billion) in 2012, with imports totalling €32 billion.

Additional reporting by Stephen Chen