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Belgian Prime Minister Asserts Opposition to Interference During Beijing Visit

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Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, pledging to strengthen cooperation and jointly oppose decoupling efforts. De Croo, who currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the European Union, engaged in discussions with Xi, highlighting the importance of fostering progress in China-EU relations in the new year.

Despite the positive sentiments, tensions surfaced during De Croo’s visit, specifically related to allegations of Chinese interference in European politics. The Belgian Prime Minister took the opportunity to caution Chinese leaders against meddling in European affairs, a statement seen in connection with a scandal involving a far-right Flemish politician suspected of having ties to China’s intelligence services.

In a press statement in Beijing, De Croo emphasized the need for discussions on various topics, including human rights and mutual respect for each other’s political systems without interference. The comments come as Belgian authorities launch a criminal investigation into Frank Creyelman, a former member of the Vlaams Belang party, accused of receiving money from Chinese authorities to influence Europe’s policies towards China.

While Chinese state media made no direct reference to the tension, focusing instead on the positive aspects of China-Belgium relations, the incident underscores the complex dynamics between the EU and China. Xi acknowledged the shared interests of China and Belgium in resisting protectionism and safeguarding free trade, appreciating De Croo’s stance against decoupling efforts.

Xi further urged De Croo to ensure a non-discriminatory environment for Chinese businesses in Belgium, emphasizing the significance of economic globalization and common interests in trade. The meeting concluded with Xi expressing China’s appreciation for Belgium’s commitment to opposing the severing of industrial and supply chains.

Notably, the visit took place against the backdrop of heightened trade tensions between the EU and China. Recent data from China’s customs authority revealed a 7.1% contraction in overall trade between the two markets in 2023 compared to the previous year. This decline raises concerns about the state of EU-China commerce, prompting both parties to navigate challenges and find common ground.

In a bid to strengthen its economic security, Brussels is set to unveil further details on its economic security strategy on January 24. The strategy aims to enhance supply-chain resilience and reduce dependencies on China, with plans to implement screening tools for outbound investments into China, particularly in high-tech sectors such as semiconductors, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence.

De Croo’s visit included a notable development for Belgian products as Beijing lifted a five-year ban related to African swine fever, allowing access to the Chinese pork market. This move was reportedly a priority for De Croo, who traveled with a small business delegation, including representatives from Boerenbond, a farmers’ association in the Flemish and German-speaking regions.

As geopolitical events, including the upcoming Taiwan elections, unfold, De Croo assured Xi that Belgium would continue to adhere to the one-China policy. The visit, part of a series of EU leaders engaging with Beijing, reflects the ongoing efforts to navigate complex political and economic dynamics, fostering dialogue amid challenges and uncertainties.

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