China's Xi on first Europe tour as Ukraine crisis deepens

THE HAGUE - China's President Xi Jinping touched down in the Netherlands on Saturday for his first-ever Europe tour, with the continent in a diplomatic frenzy after Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Xi landed at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport shortly after noon (1100 GMT), where he was welcomed by King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima at the start of a four-country tour, Dutch public broadcaster NOS said.

Also making the first-ever Chinese state visit to the Netherlands, Xi is accompanied by his glamorous wife Peng Liyuan, several ministers, including for trade, and some 200 top business delegates.

Dutch state television showed images of the Chinese first lady, a former opera star and army general who is fluent in English, chatting with Argentine-born Queen Maxima.

Xi is to hold talks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and attend a Sino-Dutch business forum before meeting US President Barack Obama on Monday.

The Chinese leader arrived ahead of a G7 meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague next week, where Obama will address the escalating showdown with Russia over Crimea.

President Vladimir Putin's absorption of Crimea from Ukraine has drawn harsh criticism and sanctions from members of the Group of Seven most-industrialised countries.

Xi is expected to meet Obama at the NSS, organised to fight nuclear terrorism, but which now risks being overshadowed by the Ukraine crisis.

While analysts say Xi is unlikely to speak out on Ukraine, they believe that China cannot remain a diplomatic bystander forever.

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said on Friday that Obama wanted to lead a campaign to isolate Russia over its annexation of Crimea, and any support from China would thrust home that message.

Xi's meeting with Obama will highlight the US leader's policy of rebalancing US resources towards Asia, which he will visit in April.

Chinese vice foreign minister Li Baodong has acknowledged the situation in Ukraine could come up in talks with Obama, but signalled Beijing's likely position by reiterating its regular call for "calm and restraint".

Xi's four-country trip comes a week after China lodged a rare abstention on a Western-backed UN Security Council resolution condemning Crimea's referendum on joining Russia, rather than vetoing it alongside Moscow.

Anti-dumping probe dropped

Apart from Obama, Xi is to meet French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on his trip, which ends in Belgium on April 1.

The 28-member EU is China's biggest trading partner but ties have been strained at times, most recently last year by mutual accusations of dumping over Chinese solar panels and European wine.

Beijing said on Friday that it would end an anti-dumping probe into wine imports from the EU after it said a deal had been reached between European wine producers.

Xi's visit to EU headquarters in Brussels on March 31 will be the first by a Chinese president, according to the EU.

The visit to France, meanwhile, is partially to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment in 1964 of diplomatic relations between Beijing and Paris.

Xi is scheduled to make a major speech in Paris highlighting historical bonds such as the experiences of Communist Party luminaries Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, who both studied in France.

The Netherlands has seen growing exports to China worth 7.6 billion euros ($10.4 bn) in 2012 with imports totalling a whopping 32 billion euros, making China the nation's third most important economic partner after Germany and Belgium.

The two-day Nuclear Security Summit kicks off on Monday.