October 4, 2014 / 2:08 AM / 3 years ago

Chinese premier to attend Europe summit, sign Russia rail deal

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang speaks during the opening session of the China's Conference of Quality at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing September 15, 2014. REUTERS/Feng Li/Pool (CHINA - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will attend a summit of European and Asian leaders on a trip starting next week that will also include a visit to Germany and the signing of energy and high-speed rail deals with Russia, the government said.

Li’s Oct. 9-16 swing through the continent is his second this year, and culminates in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit in the Italian city of Milan, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It takes place as the former British colony of Hong Kong has been rocked by pro-democracy demonstrations and also as the European Union steps up sanctions on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.

In response to the crisis, Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned to China. In May, the two countries signed a $400 billion gas supply deal and Moscow has said it will double bilateral trade by 2020.

China is ready to seize any business opportunities in Russia resulting from Moscow’s diplomatic showdown with Europe over Ukraine, Beijing’s ambassador to Berlin said this week.

While in Russia, Li will sign more than 30 agreements on finance, energy and high-speed rail cooperation, the official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday, without providing details.

China and Russia have close economic and diplomatic links, and China has been unwilling to get involved in the Ukraine crisis aside from calling for talks and a peaceful resolution.

While in Germany in March, President Xi Jinping said that China would not take sides with the West or Russia over Ukraine, disappointing any hopes Beijing might add its weight to international pressure on Moscow for annexing Crimea.

Li will hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and sign a series of agreements, Xinhua said without elaborating.

Human rights could also be on the agenda, an issue invariably raised by German politicians in meetings with their Chinese counterparts.

In a video podcast, Merkel said she hoped Hong Kong police react to the protests in a “level-headed way.”

“Freedom of opinion must continue to be guaranteed in Hong Kong, as the law says,” she said.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Michelle Martin in BERLIN; Editing by Kim Coghill

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