Europe a diplomatic priority for China, says Foreign Minister Wang Yi, amid straining ties with US

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends the Asia-Europe foreign ministers' meeting in Madrid, Spain, on Dec 16, 2019. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - China is prioritising its diplomatic relations with Europe, a top Chinese foreign policy official said, highlighting Beijing's efforts to become less dependent on the United States following months of trade tensions.

"We see Europe as an important cooperation partner and a priority on our diplomatic agenda," Mr Wang Yi, a state councillor who also serves as foreign minister, said on Monday (Dec 16) during a visit to Europe, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

China has been ramping up its efforts to improve ties with the European Union (EU) and countries including Russia and Japan as trade and political relations with the United States have deteriorated.

Mr Wang's comments on his trip to Europe, which included an Asia-Europe foreign ministers' meeting in Spain, came just days after Beijing and Washington agreed a preliminary trade deal.

The "phase one" deal suspended a threatened round of US tariffs on US$156 billion (S$211 billion) of imports from China that was scheduled to take effect on Sunday. However, while US officials have touted the deal, Chinese officials have been more cautious, emphasising that the trade dispute has not been completely settled.

Speaking at a think tank in Brussels, Mr Wang said China was not an economic rival of the European Union and should not be treated as such.

"In fact, any cool-headed person with an objective view will see that, for China and the EU, cooperation far outweighs competition, and our areas of consensus far exceed differences. We are partners, not rivals," he said.

At the foreign ministers' meeting in Spain, Mr Wang said China was opposed to a "technology blockade and digital hegemony".

"China is also against creating technological divide," Xinhua quoted Mr Wang as saying.

The US government has blacklisted several Chinese tech companies in recent months, and has sought international support for its ban of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, citing security risks. The company denies its gear poses a threat.

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