China has cancelled a trip by European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell scheduled for next week, an EU spokesperson said on Tuesday.
No reasons were given for the cancellation, which comes as Europe seeks to reduce the risks created by its close economic relationship with China, which Brussels has dubbed an “economic competitor and a systemic rival”.
“Unfortunately, we were informed by the Chinese counterparts that the envisaged dates next week are no longer possible and we must now look for alternatives,” spokesperson Nabila Massrali told Reuters in a written statement on Tuesday.
The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Borrell was due to visit Beijing on July 10 to meet his Chinese counterpart and discuss “strategic issues” including human rights and Russia’s war in Ukraine, the EU’s ambassador to China said on Sunday.
Ambassador Jorge Toledo had told the World Peace Forum in Beijing on Sunday that China and Europe are likely to hold two in-person dialogues in September, one on the economy and trade and another on digital matters, before a leaders’ summit at the end of the year.
“We want to engage with China but we need progress and we need it this year,” Toledo said.
This is the second time this year that Borrell’s trip was cancelled. He could not come in April after testing positive for COVID-19.
In a prepared speech for delivery in Beijing in April, Borrell had said that EU cannot trust China if it does not seek peace in Ukraine.
China has said it wants to broker peace in Ukraine, but its position paper released in February was met with lukewarm responses by both Russia and Ukraine.
EU climate chief Frans Timmermans, who is in Beijing this week for environment talks, also failed to visit China in April because he caught COVID-19.
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian and Martin Quin Pollard; Editing by Conor Humphries and David Holmes)