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China suddenly withdraws highest EU envoy's Beijing stay

July 6, 2023: On Tuesday, China canceled a scheduled visit by the European Union’s foreign policy chief prepared for the following week without providing a specific reason.

Increased Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell was initially due to visit Beijing in April for the annual EU-China strategic dialogue with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang. However, that was delayed after Borrell tested positive for Covid-19.

On Wednesday, an EU foreign affairs spokesperson confirmed that Borrell’s team had been told by their Chinese counterparts the new dates of July 10-11 were no longer possible, and an alternative would need to be found. Topics under discussion included human rights and Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin declined to provide a reason for the cancellation at a briefing Wednesday but added: “We welcome High-Level Representative Borrell to visit China at the earliest time convenient to both sides,” according to a Reuters report.

The cancellation, or possible postponement, comes from a scheduled visit to Beijing by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen on Thursday.

China on Monday announced new export restrictions on two metals, germanium, and gallium, which are critical to the manufacturing of semiconductors and electronics and have used from military equipment to mobile phones.

According to Reuters, the news has driven the metals’ prices while pushing companies into a scramble to shore up supplies.

In recent years, the U.S. has increasingly used export restrictions and trade blocklists against China as it seeks to curb the growth of its technological power.

On Wednesday, Former Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Wei Jianguo told the China Daily newspaper the belated measures were “just the beginning” and that “if the high-tech restrictions on China become tougher in the future, China’s countermeasures will also escalate.”

“It’s weaponizing that rare earth and critical minerals supply chain,” Rebecca Harding, trade and political risk specialist and senior fellow at the British Foreign Policy Group, told on Wednesday.

″There is an element of mutually guaranteed destruction because you can’t manufacture chips without the supply chains. But these export controls will be pretty limited,” she said.

She added that the measures could be seen as retaliatory to actions of the United States and the Netherlands, a crucial semiconductor machinery hub, which announced new export restrictions on advanced semiconductor equipment last week. There is unlikely to be “any imminent rowing back,” Harding added.

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