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Belgium’s PM to China: Respect our political system — ‘without interference’

BEIJING — You stay out of our politics, we’ll stay out of yours: that’s the message delivered by Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo to Chinese Premier Li Qiang on Friday.

In a statement to the press ahead of his meeting with President Xi Jinping’s No. 2, De Croo told Beijing not to meddle in European politics, in comments that appeared to be a nod to a Chinese cash-for-influence scandal that has shaken Belgium in recent weeks.

“I hope that we have the opportunity to discuss a number of topics between our countries, on our positions related to human rights … our position related to the respect, and 100 percent respect, of each other’s political systems — and respecting that without interference,” De Croo said, speaking in English.

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The cash-for-influence case involved Frank Creyelman, a lawmaker from Belgium’s far-right Vlaams Belang party, who allegedly received money from a Chinese spy with the aim of influencing Belgian and European politics. De Croo, whose country assumed the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the EU at the beginning of this month, is in Beijing for a two-day state visit, where he’s set to meet with Xi.

Late December, the Belgian prime minister told Belgian media he would convey his concerns about Chinese interference in EU politics during the visit, saying that Beijing had at times adopted “very hostile attitudes.”

The trip comes at a peculiar geopolitical moment, a day before a closely watched presidential election in Taiwan, and while the relationship between the EU and China has hit several hurdles, including that of access for European companies on the Chinese market.

“We really have one ambition, that is to grow economic ties which will be more balanced and discuss in which way we could gain a better access to the Chinese market,” De Croo said.

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