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Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, has started his first international trip since the coronavirus pandemic grounded flights. He stopped first in Italy on Tuesday, before heading to the Netherlands the following day and is set to travel to Norway, France and Germany. But the countries have voiced their concerns to the minister about China’a actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Mr Yang has so far visited his Italian and Dutch counterparts Luigi DI Maio and Stef Blok.
In his visit to Italy, Mr Wang urged Italy to stay away from the “new Cold War” with the US.
He also praised Italy for giving “understanding and support” to Beijing’s “core interests and major issues”.
In the Netherlands, Mr Wang reiterated calls for cooperation between the EU and China.
Mr Di Maio however showed concerns about China’s recent human rights issues.
The Italian minister issued a grave warning to Mr Wang about preserving Hong Kong’s autonomy, after China passed a security law curbing the region’s freedoms.
Mr Di Maio said in a joint press conference on Tuesday: “It is indispensable to preserve the high degree of autonomy and freedom.
“We will follow with great attention the developments of the new national security law”.
Likewise, Mr Blok took Mr Wang to task on humans rights in Hong Kong during the ministers visit.
He said that arrests in Hong Kong of journalists and lawmakers, the delay by a year of legislative elections and Beijing’s contentious new national security law “are all extremely worrying developments.”
Mr Blok also raised other human rights issues during the talks, and said he “specifically called attention to the restriction of freedom of religion and belief in China, which affects in particular Muslims, Christians and Tibetan Buddhists.”
The Dutch minister added he raised concerns about Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, who have been physically abused by state officials.
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Mr Wang and his counterparts have also reaffirmed their commitment to economic partnership.
Neither Mr Wang or Mr Di Maio mentioned Huawei during the Chinese ministers visit, despite Italy’s decision to exclude the telecoms firm from its 5G network.
Mr Wang also reaffirmed his desire to see Italy work closely with Beijing on projects under the Belt and Road Initiative to help the countries’ economies recover.
Italy was the first country to join China’s global investment programme, with the two countries agreeing 29 deals worth a staggering €2.5 billion.
Lucrezia Poggetti, an expert on EU-China relations at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, claimed to the South China Morning Post Mr Wang’s visit would be a “damage control exercise”.
She added: “Beijing’s main goal is to prevent the creation of a united transatlantic front against China, particularly on 5G,”
Ms Poggetti also claimed Hong Kong and human rights will continue to be “contentious issues” throughout Mr Wang’s European trip.
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