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EU Chief Michel to Head to China for Xi Meeting

TEHRAN (Tasnim) - European Union chief Charles Michel will head to Beijing next week for a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a European official said on Thursday.

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The official, confirming a report in the Financial Times, told AFP that the European Council president's Dec 1 visit would be formally announced later Thursday.

The trip comes amid a lively debate between EU capitals as to how to handle relations with China.

The United States is pushing its Western allies to align themselves against China, but some EU members with important trade links resist splitting world affairs into two camps.

Michel walks a line between Germany, with its important economic interests in China, and EU members such as Lithuania, which has courted Beijing's anger by building links with Taiwan.

EU capitals have also been concerned by China's bond with Russia, even in the wake of the Ukraine war.

Earlier in November at an Asean summit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia just ahead of the Group of 20 summit at which Xi met US President Joe Biden, Michel urged Beijing to push Russia to respect international law.

"We encourage the Chinese authorities to use all the means at their disposal to convince Russia to respect internationally recognized borders, to respect the sovereignty of Ukraine," Michel said at the time.

Also in November, in an incident that underlined the tensions between Brussels and Beijing, a speech that Michel had been scheduled to broadcast at a Chinese trade fair was canceled.

European diplomats told AFP that China had sought to censor a video speech from Michel for the China International Import Expo and that Brussels had preferred to pull it.

One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the authorities had wanted to censor all reference to the war in Ukraine, a sensitive issue for Beijing.

China seeks to position itself as neutral over the conflict but has offered diplomatic backing to its strategic ally Russia.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz met Xi in China on Nov 4 to push for greater economic cooperation and more equal trade ties, despite his fellow EU leaders' misgivings.