Sun, Mar 23, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Xi starts first EU tour in shadow of Crimea

AFP, THE HAGUE, THE NETHERLANDS

China’s President Xi Jinping (習近平) touched down in the Netherlands yesterday for his first-ever Europe tour, with the continent in a diplomatic frenzy after Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Xi landed at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport shortly after noon, where he was welcomed by Dutch King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima at the start of a four-country tour, Dutch public broadcaster NOS said.

Also making the first-ever Chinese state visit to the Netherlands, Xi is accompanied by his glamorous wife, Peng Liyuan (彭麗媛), several ministers — including for trade — and about 200 top business delegates.

Dutch state TV showed images of the Chinese first lady, a former opera star and army general who is fluent in English, chatting with Argentina-born Maxima.

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

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

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s absorption of Crimea from Ukraine has drawn harsh criticism and sanctions from members of the group of the most-industrialized countries in the world.

Xi is expected to meet Obama at the summit, organized to fight nuclear terrorism, but which now risks being overshadowed by the Ukrainian crisis.

While analysts say Xi is unlikely to speak out on Ukraine, they believe that China cannot remain a diplomatic bystander forever.

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice on Friday said Obama wanted to lead a campaign to isolate Russia over its annexation of Crimea and any support from China would thrust home that message.

Xi’s meeting with Obama will highlight the US leader’s move to rebalance US resources toward Asia, which he will visit next month.

Xi’s four-country 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.

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

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