December 17, 2019 / 1:25 AM / a month ago

Europe a diplomatic priority for China, top official says

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - China is prioritizing 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.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi delivers a speech at an annual symposium on international situation and China's diplomacy in Beijing, China December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

“We see Europe as an important cooperation partner and a priority on our diplomatic agenda,” Wang Yi, a state councillor who also serves as foreign minister, said on Monday 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 and countries including Russia and Japan as trade and political relations with the United States have deteriorated.

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 so-called Phase One deal suspended a threatened round of U.S. tariffs on $156 billion of Chinese exports that was scheduled to take effect on Sunday. However, while U.S. officials have touted the deal, Chinese officials have been more cautious, emphasizing that the trade dispute has not been completely settled.

Speaking at a think tank in Brussels, 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, Wang said China was opposed to a “technology blockade and digital hegemony.”

“China is also against creating technological divide,” Xinhua quoted Wang as saying.

The U.S. government has blacklisted several Chinese tech companies in recent months, and has sought international support for its ban of the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL], citing security risks. The company denies its gear poses a threat.

Reporting by John Ruwitch; editing by Jane Wardell

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