Foreign and Military Affairs

Top EU official kicks off first China tour

Updated: 2011-05-16 08:04

By Li Xiaokun and Zhou Wa (China Daily)

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BEIJING - European Council President Herman Van Rompuy arrived in Beijing on Sunday on his first official visit to China, with talks on the eurozone debt crisis and trade disputes high on the agenda.

During his five-day visit, Van Rompuy will meet Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice-President Xi Jinping.

He will also pay visits to Chengdu, capital city of Southwest China's Sichuan province, and the economic hub of Shanghai.

Van Rompuy took up the post on Jan 1, 2010, two months after he was chosen as the first full-time president of the European Council that represents the EU's 27 member states.

The visit comes amid Europe's sovereign debt crisis, which is affecting Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

Since the outbreak of the debt crisis in 2009, China has been buying bonds from Spain and other European nations, according to China's Commerce Ministry.

Chinese leaders have repeatedly said over the past two years that China has not reduced its holdings of European bonds and even increased its purchases.

Though it is not very optimistic about the European economy, China Investment Corporation, China's sovereign wealth fund, will continue to invest in Europe, Lou Jiwei, the fund's chairman said in April.

"The support helped build up Spain's confidence and capability to prevail over difficulties and ensure the stability and development of the Spanish and European economies," Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero told Premier Wen during a visit to China in April.

"On the Chinese side, they are asking for some information about the eurozone crisis and how things are developing," a spokesman for Van Rompuy said of the visit, according to Reuters.

"They are investing a lot of money in the euro and in the peripheral countries, so they are very interested in that. They are interested in what we have done and what our vision is."

Van Rompuy is likely to discuss details of Beijing's plans to help Europe handle the crisis with Chinese leaders, said Feng Zhongping, director of the Institute of European Studies at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

"China will also benefit from such arrangements, as the move will deepen mutual trust between the two partners," Feng said.

Trade and business disputes will also be on the agenda. The EU recently raised duties on a series of Chinese imports, prompting retaliatory measures from Beijing.

EU-China trade was valued at nearly $667 billion in 2010, while bilateral trade in the first quarter of this year totaled $123.7 billion, up 22 percent year-on-year.

Besides, Beijing is likely to continue pushing for the lifting of the EU arms embargo on China during the talks.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton suggested last year it was time to end the ban, but agreement has yet to reached inside the bloc.

On the eve of his visit, Van Rompuy told Chinese Ambassador to the EU Song Zhe that the EU welcomes the strong development momentum of emerging market economies including China, and regards China's rapid development as a new opportunity.

Song noted in an interview with People's Daily on the following day that Van Rompuy's visit is an important exchange between the new EU leader and Chinese leaders since the Lisbon Treaty, which aims for a more united and powerful EU, took effect.

He also noted that China and the EU share a similar blueprint for future development with the simultaneous launch of China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) and the Europe 2020 Strategy. This year marks the beginning of both the massive plans.

"The two plans, which both stress green and sustainable development, signal huge potential for China-EU cooperation," Feng said. He also noted that China's strategy of exploring domestic demand complements Europe's desire to expand exports.

Xinhua contributed to this story.


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