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Xi travels to Europe to defend ties with Russia

“EASTERN OPENING”

From France, Xi will head to Serbia and then Hungary from May 8-10.

The visit to Belgrade, the Serbian capital, will coincide with the anniversary of the US bombing of the Chinese embassy there in 1999, allowing Xi to send a clear anti-Western message.

China has invested heavily to expand its economic footprint in central and eastern Europe, including huge battery and electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing plants in Hungary and copper and gold operations in Serbia.

“The plan to commemorate the… NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy… also paves the way for Putin’s visit to China: NATO is a threat to international security,” said Wang Yiwei, director of the Center of European Union Studies at Renmin University of China.

In Budapest he will meet Prime Minister Viktor Orban, an avowed nationalist who opposes the EU’s official position on Russia.

Orban has been championing a foreign policy of “opening to the East” since his return to power in 2010, seeking closer economic ties with China, Russia and other Asian countries.

Despite its small size, the Central European country of 9.6 million people has attracted a flood of major Chinese projects in recent years.

Orban spoke last month about his vision of a “sovereign world,” where the “global economy is organized non-ideologically along lines of mutual benefit.”

Associate Professor Chong of NUS said Xi probably chose his stops for a reason: to “make things look quite positive” despite the current frictions.

He also noted that as China eased its COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, Xi was interested in building relations with Europe.

“Now that Wang Yi has visited, I guess the next step is for Xi himself to visit and for him to sort of be the face of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to try to advance ties, especially at a time when that there are many differences,” he added.

“I guess Xi’s visit comes right after (German Chancellor) Olaf Scholz’s previous visit to the People’s Republic of China, so I guess Beijing must think there is some positive momentum for them to do more.”