China / Society

Xi prepares for W. Europe visit

By ZHOU WA (China Daily) Updated: 2014-03-15 04:33

President Xi Jinping will kick off a trip to Europe next Saturday, the Foreign Ministry announced on Friday. It will be Xi's first visit to Western Europe since taking office last March.

According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Xi will participate in the international Nuclear Security Summit scheduled to be held in The Hague on March 24 and 25.

From the Netherlands, Xi will travel to France and visit the UNESCO headquarters.

He also is set to go to Germany before ending his trip in Belgium, where he will visit the headquarters of the European Union in Brussels.

Europe is Xi's first foreign destination since the closing of the nation's annual two sessions, at which members of China's top legislative and advisory bodies discuss policies and make national-level political decisions.

The visit shows the high importance China attaches to countries in the West and is expected to set the tone for future China-Europe ties, analysts said.

Economic cooperation will headline Xi's agenda, they added.

"Just as Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a news conference on the sidelines of the two sessions, Europe has a priority place on China's diplomatic agenda this year," said Ding Chun, a professor of European studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.

"Being advanced in many leading technologies, European countries, including Germany and France, can offer experience in development to China; as the two sessions reaffirmed, China attaches great importance to economic reform," he said.

Wang said at the news briefing that cooperation in fields such as science and technology innovation, energy and environmental conservation, urbanization, connectivity and people-to-people and cultural exchanges will take precedence.

Data show that bilateral trade between China and the European Union exceeded $546 billion in 2012, with the EU becoming China's largest trade partner and China the second-largest of the 28-member bloc.

Germany is China's biggest trading partner in the EU, followed by the Netherlands and France.

"Despite the fact that some countries in the EU are suffering from the ongoing debt crisis, European nations are still an important export market, and source of investment and technology for China," said Zhao Junjie, a researcher in European studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Europe, especially developed nations in the Western part of the continent, is an important partner in economic cooperation with China," he added.

Meanwhile, EU members are hoping China will help them boost own economic development, said Cui Hongjian, director of European studies at the China Institute of International Studies.

"China's new round of reform and opening-up and strategy to boost domestic demands will create a lot of opportunities," he said.

In November, China and the EU launched negotiations on an unprecedented China-EU bilateral investment treaty during the 16th China-EU Summit. Analysts said the treaty topics also will be highlighted on Xi's visit.

It would be the first standalone investment agreement since foreign direct investment became the exclusive purview of the EU under the Lisbon Treaty.

"We hope to speed up negotiations for a China-EU investment agreement, with a view to future free trade arrangements between China and Europe," the foreign minister said.

The treaty will offer a good opportunity for China to attain international standards in trade and investment, and to get more involved in the global economy, said Zhao from CASS.

Chen Mingming, China's former ambassador to Sweden, told China Daily, "The treaty can contribute to avoiding trading disputes and protectionism."

China and the EU have clashed in the past over trade issues, principally over EU accusations in the first half of 2013 that Chinese companies were selling solar panels in the bloc below cost, which prompted Beijing leaders to discuss launching an investigation into the dumping of EU wine imports.

"Chinese and EU leaders should develop and improve the cooperative mechanisms, so as to prevent friction like this from happening in the future," Cui said.

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