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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (L) is welcomed by Swiss Vice-President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, upon his arrival in Zurich, Switzerland, May 23, 2013. Li Keqiang arrived Thursday evening for an official visit to Switzerland. [Photo/Xinhua]
ZURICH, Switzerland - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang arrived here Thursday evening for an official visit to Switzerland, his first trip to Europe since he took office in March.
"The choice of Switzerland as the first destination for my first European trip since I became Chinese premier means that I hope to strengthen bilateral high-level exchanges, achieve new breakthroughs in mutually beneficial cooperation, enhance understanding and friendship between the two peoples and promote the long-term healthy and stable development of our friendly relations," Li said in a written statement upon his arrival.
He noted that Switzerland is among the first Western countries to establish diplomatic ties with China and an important European partner of China in economic, technological and financial cooperation.
Li said he expected to meet with the Swiss leaders and friends from all walks of life during his visit, carry out deep exchanges on issues of common concern and listen to opinions on the development of bilateral ties.
"I believe this visit will lift China-Switzerland relations to a new stage," said Li.
Li is scheduled to meet with President of the Swiss Confederation Ueli Maurer, Vice-President Didier Burkhalter and Head of Federal Department of Economic Affairs Johann Schneider-Ammann.
The two countries are expected to sign a series of agreements to strengthen cooperation in various areas.
On the eve of his visit, Li published a signed article in Neue Zuricher Zeitung, a German-language Swiss daily, highlighting the importance China attaches to its relations with Switzerland.
"Switzerland is the first European destination on the list of countries I will visit after becoming China's premier. In Chinese culture, being 'first' always carries symbolic meaning," Li said in the article.
He pointed out that a free trade agreement (FTA) to be reached between the two countries will bring about more opportunities for bilateral cooperation.
"With the advent of FTA, Switzerland will become the first country in continental Europe and the first of the world's top 20 economies to reach an FTA with China, the implications of which will be significant," Li wrote.
Switzerland is one of the first European countries to recognize China's market economy status and initiated FTA talks with Beijing.
The negotiations have made substantial progress after nine rounds of talks.
China is now Switzerland's largest trade partner in Asia, while Switzerland is China's seventh largest trade partner and the sixth largest source of foreign investment in Europe.
Statistics showed that two-way trade exceeded $30 billion dollars in 2011, a record 50 percent increase compared to that of 2010.
Despite the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and uncertainties in world economy, bilateral trade between China and Switzerland remained as high as $26.3 billion dollars last year.
Switzerland is the third leg of Li's four-country tour, which has taken him to India and Pakistan. The last stop is Germany.