China invites four European foreign ministers to visit in diplomatic push

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An attendant walks past EU and China flags ahead of the EU-China High-level Economic Dialogue at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China June 25, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo

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BEIJING, May 28 (Reuters) - The foreign ministers of Ireland, Poland, Hungary and Serbia will visit China from Saturday, the Chinese foreign ministry said, in a sign of a push to strengthen ties with Europe after an investment treaty was frozen.

The European Parliament this month halted ratification of the investment pact with China until Beijing lifts sanctions on EU politicians, deepening a dispute in Sino-European relations and denying EU companies greater access to China. read more

Beijing's sanctions were a response to Western sanctions against Chinese officials accused of the mass detentions of Muslim Uyghurs in northwestern China.

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The four ministers will visit China from May 29 to 31 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Wang Yi, ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular news conference in Beijing on Friday.

During the visit Wang will separately meet the four ministers and discuss bilateral and China-Europe relations, said Zhao. China hopes the visit can help deepen cooperation and "promote the post-epidemic economic recovery," he said.

EU members Poland and Hungary, as well as Serbia, which is not in the bloc, belong to the China-led "17+1" grouping of Central and Eastern European countries. The grouping recently lost a member when Lithuania pulled out.

Lithuania's parliament in May described China's treatment of its Uyghur minority as genocide, and the country also said it would open a trade representative office this year in Taiwan, which China considers its own territory, prompting anger in Beijing. read more

None of the ministers invited to China are from countries whose parliaments have branded its treatment of the Uyghurs as genocide, a label Beijing strongly rejects.

Serbia and Hungary have also both approved and administered Chinese vaccines against COVID-19.

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Reporting by Gabriel Crossley Editing by Gareth Jones

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