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International Relations

China offers olive branch to Europe with release of widow

Beijing seeks a united front to counter US trade policies

Liu Xia, widow of Nobel Peace Prize-winning activist Liu Xiaobo, arrives at Helsinki International Airport on July 10. She was permitted to leave China after years under house arrest.

BEIJING/BERLIN -- China has permitted the widow of Nobel Prize-winning activist Liu Xiaobo to leave the country in an effort to strengthen ties with Europe and to build a united front against increasingly isolationist U.S. trade policies.

Liu Xia, who herself has been under house arrest, flew out of Beijing on Tuesday. She arrived in Berlin via Helsinki the same day.

Germany and other European nations had been offering to take in Liu Xia since shortly after her husband's death in July 2017. But China, concerned she would speak out against the government once abroad, refused to let her leave. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Beijing was willing to discuss "individual cases" regarding human rights in a joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in May.

Earlier this month, human rights experts from the United Nations publicly voiced concern about Liu Xia's psychological health. The European Union is also believed to have pushed China to allow her to leave during a two-day meeting in Beijing earlier this week. Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to have given the green light as part of his drive to improve ties with Europe in order to counter the Trump administration in the U.S.

Liu Xiaobo was known for co-authoring Charter 08, which called for constitutional change and other measures that would allow greater democratic freedoms in China. But he was arrested shortly before the document was published. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his "struggle for fundamental human rights," and died under guard at a hospital.

Li on Monday rejected accusations that Beijing is trying to weaken Europe's unity by increasing its clout over western Balkan countries -- a strategically important area that has drawn investment not only from China but Russia and Turkey as well. Speaking at a news conference with Merkel, Li stressed that China benefits from a stable Europe given their trade and investment ties. Several joint projects between Chinese and German companies were announced as well.

European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker are heading to the Chinese capital next Monday and Tuesday in what will serve as the next big test for Sino-European ties. China hopes to use Europe's growing tensions with the U.S. on trade and security to its advantage and lay the groundwork for further cooperation with the region.

But Europe is wary. The EU is negotiating with member nations on strengthening controls against acquisitions by companies outside the bloc, likely with Chinese state enterprises in mind. It is also concerned by the lack of openness in China's economy, as well as the country's track record on human rights.

Meanwhile, China is seeking potential partners in other corners of the globe as well. "Arab states are natural partners of China," Xi said at the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum in Beijing on Tuesday. China relies heavily on Arab oil producers, and is positioning itself as a no-strings partner by steering clear of women's rights concerns in these states.

Nikkei staff writer Kenta Shinozaki in London contributed to this story.

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