* China's Xi tells EU wants closer ties, no more war
* Speech ends a European tour against Ukraine backdrop
* Free-trade a long-held Chinese goal that divides EU
By Robin Emmott
BRUGES, Belgium, April 1 Chinese President Xi
Jinping told Europe on Tuesday that Beijing opposed intervention
in other countries' affairs but he declined to directly
criticise Russia for its annexation of Crimea.
Xi also assured European leaders that China was a close
ally committed to the continent's peace and prosperity.
Ending his European tour with a speech in the Belgian city
of Bruges, Xi said he considered China's relationship with the
European Union as Beijing's priority and praised its commitment
to a lasting peace that China would also seek to uphold.
He said that while the memory of foreign invasion and
bullying had never been erased from the minds of the Chinese
people, "I have come to Europe to build a bridge across the
Xi's speech to dignitaries including the Belgian king and
prime minister were his only public remarks during three days in
Though short on specifics, Xi, the first Chinese leader to
visit the EU headquarters in Brussels, promised that Beijing is
focused on ensuring non-intervention in other countries' affairs
- an apparent reference to Russia, which is seeking to sell
natural gas to China.
Beijing has been cautious not to be drawn into the struggle
between Russia and the West over Ukraine's future but Xi
suggested it would not encourage Russian aggression in Ukraine.
"China follows a policy of peace. China is committed to
non-interference in other countries," Xi said.
China is a central player in the Ukraine crisis but has
frustrated the European Union with its silence over Russia's
annexation of Crimea, abstaining in a United Nations Security
Council vote condemning the move on March 21.
For a story on China's influence in the EU:
At an EU-China summit in Brussels on Monday, the European
Union's top two officials, Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel
Barroso, pressed Xi on Russia and the Chinese leader said he
"believed in the territorial integrity" of countries, according
to EU officials briefed on the meeting.
The EU has offered a trade and aid deal to Ukraine to bring
it closer to the union, angering Moscow, which considers the
country its own and sought to include it in a Russian-led
Eurasian customs union.
Ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich rejected that
trade deal in November in favour of cash from Moscow, triggering
protests that led to bloodshed in Kiev and his flight to Russia.
Xi used his speech to reiterate China's desire for a
multi-billion euro free-trade deal with the EU - a long-held
Chinese goal but one that divides Europe because of China's
policy of helping its state-owned enterprises to dominate
Europe is China's most important trading partner, while for
the EU, China is second only to the United States. Trade between
the EU and China has doubled since 2003 to more than 1 billion
euros ($1.4 billion) a day.
But the bilateral relationship has been bedevilled by a
series of trade rows ranging from steel and wine to solar
panels. China's ambition to produce more sophisticated products
to compete with European goods also unnerves some Europeans.
"China and European may seem far apart geographically but we
are in the same time and the same space," Xi said. "We need to
build a bridge of growth and of prosperity...and actively
explore possibility of a free-trade area."
Xi won a pledge from EU officials at the summit to consider
such a pact, although the European Union insists that is a long
way off and China must first show it is ready to play by
international trade rules by agreeing an "investment agreement."
Xi's appetite for political and economic reform, coupled
with his folksy style and the legacy of his father, a reformist
former vice-premier, have raised hopes in Brussels that China is
willing to do that.
China unveiled its boldest reforms in nearly three decades
in November, months after Xi, who is 60, became president.
Negotiations towards such an investment accord are underway
and should make it easier for European countries to do business
in China, a big step that many see as a potential forerunner to
a trade deal.
European companies complain of poor treatment in China, such
as being forced to share sensitive know-how to win access to
Chinese funding and local contracts.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Angus MacSwan)