Sat, June 25, 2011
China > China & World

Wen's Europe tour to foster closer ties

2011-06-25 08:02:45 GMT2011-06-25 16:02:45(Beijing Time)  China Daily

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is greeted by Hungarian children at the University of Budapest at the start of his visit to Hungary on Friday. Laszlo Balogh / Reuters

BEIJING/BRUSSELS - Kicking off his European tour at a crucial time in the eurozone debt crisis, Premier Wen Jiabao might find the coincidence a good opportunity to draw Beijing closer to its largest trading partner.

Observers from both sides said China, which has been buying European debt during the crisis, is likely to announce a further debt purchase to provide tangible support.

"I imagine he (Wen) will be concerned about the sovereign debt crisis in Europe and especially the risk of a Greek default on its debt," said Hugh Miall, a professor of international relations at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom.

"China already holds a lot of US debt and it seems to be interested in buying European debt too," Miall said.

Wen's five-day visit to Hungary, the United Kingdom and Germany started on Friday and coincides with the EU summit on Thursday and Friday intended to end the eurozone debt crisis.

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

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

Gu Junli, a European studies expert with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said: "China has made it clear that it wants to see a strong euro."

And Wen's itinerary reminds countries in the region that Beijing's interest in cooperation is not limited to developed Western Europe but also extends to emerging markets in the east of the continent.

The premier chose Hungary as his first stop. This is the first visit by a Chinese premier to the country in 24 years.

"From a business perspective, China will find more opportunities in Eastern Europe. By deepening cooperation with Hungary, Beijing will set a good example for other countries there," said Cui Hongjian, an expert on European studies with the China Institute of International Studies. Hungary is China's largest trading partner in Central and Eastern Europe.

In addition, as Hungary now holds the rotating EU presidency and will hand it to Poland next month, Eastern Europe is playing a bigger role in geopolitics, Cui said.

But, Wen's visit to Germany will be more eye-catching due to the first government talks between the two nations which will involve more than 20 ministers from both sides, Cui said.

The Strategic and Economic Dialogues between Beijing and Washington, the most prominent bilateral government meeting mechanism Beijing holds so far, is limited to fewer high-level officials and only deals with foreign affairs, commerce and national defense.

There are enough reasons for China to decide to establish such a mechanism with Germany, Cui said, citing Germany's healthy economy despite the debt crisis and its growing role in EU and world affairs.

"Due to historical reasons, Germany has long kept a low profile in global affairs, but now we find it seeking partners in both the EU and around the world," Cui said.

Cooperation between the world's second- and fourth-largest economies, both running well, can contribute greatly to the recovery of the world economy, he said.

Tian Dewen, an expert on UK studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Wen's visit to the UK comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron plans to double the volume of UK-China bilateral trade by 2015.

The two nations also have great potential for cooperation in world economic reform and the low carbon industry, he said.

Wen is the fourth senior Chinese leader to visit Europe in six months.

President Hu Jintao just wrapped up a visit to Russia and Ukraine this week and he will visit France in November to attend the G20 summit. Vice-President Xi Jinping had a four-day visit to Italy in June, while in January, Vice-Premier Li Keqiang visited Spain, the UK and Germany.

"I have never seen such a high frequency of visits by top leaders from China to Europe before," Monika Hohlmeier, a German member of the European Parliament, said in an interview with China Daily.

She said China's active approach indicated its confidence in solving tough global challenges and also the country's sincerity in deepening relations with Europe.

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