China’s Wang Yi warns European nations not to develop ties with Taiwan

Shi Jiangtao, South China Morning Post

Posted at Oct 29 2021 09:41 PM

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi has urged the European Union not to treat Beijing as a rival and accused countries seeking closer ties with Taiwan of sabotaging EU-China relations.

He made the comments on Wednesday during a visit to Greece, the first stop of his four-nation tour of Europe, which also includes Serbia, Albania and Italy.

The trip, Wang’s first European visit this year, comes after China’s fraught relations with the EU hit a new low with the imposition of tit-for-tat sanctions over Beijing’s alleged mistreatment of Uygur Muslims in its Xinjiang region.

“China and the EU should respect each other, conduct exchanges on an equal footing, enhance understanding and manage differences,” Wang told his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, according to Xinhua.

Brushing aside their widening differences over human rights and Beijing’s assertive foreign policy, Wang insisted that China and the EU should be “partners” and “collaborators”, rather than “rivals” and “competitors”.

The EU has adapted its approach since 2019 to see China, its top trading partner, simultaneously as a partner, competitor and systemic rival.

“At present, it is especially important to guard against and prevent the attempts of some individual countries to challenge the one-China principle and undermine the political mutual trust between China and Europe,” he was quoted by Xinhua as saying.

Wang’s European tour came on the heels of a rare visit by Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu this week to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, neither of which has official ties with the self-ruling island.

European countries’ attitudes towards Taiwan are undergoing delicate changes, especially with public opinions across Europe towards China turning increasingly negative in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and spiralling US-China rivalry.

Beijing, hypersensitive to “interference of external forces” in cross-strait affairs, strongly condemned Wu’s European visit and a resolution by the European Parliament last week calling for stronger ties with Taiwan.

“Facing a world full of uncertainties and instabilities, China and Europe should enhance dialogue and communication, promote understanding and mutual trust, dispel misunderstandings and doubts, and consolidate our political foundation based on the one-China principle,” Wang was quoted by Xinhua as saying at a joint press conference with Dendias.

He highlighted China’s trade and investment clout and praised bilateral ties with Greece as an example for other European countries in dealing with differences with China.

Wang said China was willing to expand “the EU’s global interconnection strategy, so as to enhance the level of interconnection of the Eurasian continent, stimulate the growth potential of China and Europe, and accelerate the global economic recovery.”

He described the Greek port of Piraeus, controlled by China’s state-owned shipping giant Cosco, as an “emblematic” project of the Belt and Road Initiative and a model for mutually beneficial cooperation.

Amid EU scepticism, Cosco acquired a 51 per cent stake in the Mediterranean Sea port in 2016 at the height of Greece’s debt crisis. The Chinese company increased its stake to 67 per cent despite criticism from Greece’s opposition Syriza party and trade unions.

President Xi Jinping visited the project two years ago and called it “the head of the dragon”, referring to the belt and road, his signature foreign policy and outbound investment scheme.

“China is ready to work with Greece to build Piraeus into a world-class port,” Wang said, calling for the two sides to expand belt and road cooperation and increase mutual investment.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis also hailed the port project as a success and was quoted by Xinhua as telling Wang in Athens on Wednesday that Greece “attached great importance to developing relations with China and never agreed with any anti-China argument”.

Despite its dependence on Washington and Nato as security guarantors, Greece, still reeling from the decade-long debt crisis, has moved closer towards China and embraced its investment.

In 2016 and 2017, Greece blocked at least two EU statements criticising China for its expansive claims in the South China Sea dispute and human rights record, in moves widely criticised as undermining the unity of the 27-member bloc.

Wang also condemned the protesters – including exiled Hong Kong activist Joey Siu – who this month sought to disrupt a ceremony in Athens to light the Olympic flame for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games.

“Beijing is ready,” he said. “We are confident to be able to present a simple, safe and brilliant Olympic gala. The politicisation of sports distorts the Olympic purpose, and we should resist it together.”

Mitsotakis has agreed to attend the Games in February, despite calls from EU lawmakers to skip it unless Beijing changes its repressive policies in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

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