Chinese and Belgian leaders on Wednesday vowed to enhance bilateral cooperation especially in scientific research and trade, as Vice-Premier Li Keqiang is paying an official visit to the country that hosts the European Union headquarters.
Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo expressed hope for China's help in the recovery of the EU's economy, which he said is experiencing its most difficult time.
The two sides also signed two agreements to boost investments and cooperation in agriculture.
Belgium is the last stop of Li's 10-day visit to Europe after Russia and Hungary.
Li hailed Belgium's level of internationalization and called for increased bilateral economic and trade cooperation as well as cultural exchanges, saying the "two wheels should roll on simultaneously".
Di Rupo hopes to enhance cooperation with China especially in trade, which he said still has a lot of room to improve.
Belgium is strong in research and development — ranking fifth in the EU — and has a competitive scientific research and development team, Di Rupo said.
Statistics show that trade between China and Belgium hit a record high of $29 billion in 2011. Belgium is the sixth-largest trading partner of China in the EU, while China stands as the second-largest trading partner of Belgium outside the EU.
Developing friendly cooperation with Belgium, which is called the "heart of Europe" as it hosts many European organizations, has special significance for China, said Guan Chengyuan, former Chinese ambassador to the EU and Belgium.
The China-Belgium relationship has developed smoothly in recently years with frequent high-level visits and large potential for further cooperation in trade, Guan told China Daily.
Belgium was one of the first countries in the West to provide China with government loans, to export advanced technologies to China and to set up joint ventures on the Chinese mainland.
It was also among the first group of Western nations to establish industry investment funds with China in the 21st century.
"Belgium is a relatively small country in the EU, but it has a strong economy, highly developed industry, science and technology, as well as abundant financial strength," Guan said.
Li's visit to the country will inject new momentum into future bilateral economic cooperation, Guan said.
A mutual fund, the China-Belgium Mirror Fund, was launched on the same day and aims to help Chinese companies boost investments into the country as well as the whole EU.
Cornelius Focke, a researcher at the London-based business intelligence firm Diligence, said certain countries in Europe need Chinese investment.
Direct investments from Chinese companies to the EU in 2011 reached $4.28 billion, nearly doubling that of the previous year.
China's investment has covered the 27 EU members, and the EU has become an important market for Chinese companies' overseas acquisitions.
Di Rupo told Li that now is the most difficult time for the EU economy, which needs both fiscal consolidation and economic recovery.
Di Rupo said he hopes China supports the European economy, which is important to the prosperity of the world.
Earlier this month, China and some other emerging economies pledged to contribute $68 billion at the International Monetary Fund's annual spring meeting in Washington, provided that the IMF does not back out of a 2010 agreement to give them more say in how it is run.
The EU has been China's top trading partner, exporting market and technology source for years. China is the EU's second-largest trading partner, second-largest exporting market, biggest importing source and fastest growing exporting market.
In 2011, Sino-EU trade volume hit a record high of $567 billion, a year-on-year increase of 18.4 percent, according to statistics from the Ministry of Commerce.
Deputy Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan said China and the EU, as a fast growing developing country and the world's biggest union of developed economies, are highly complementary rather than competitive in many areas including natural resources, labor, capital, market and technology.
"China and the EU are cooperative partners, not competitors, in realizing their respective development and tackling world challenges," Zhong said.
He said the two sides should develop their cooperation potential in areas including urbanization, high-tech and the green economy. The Ministry of Commerce will actively enlarge imports from the EU, Zhong said.
He called for opposition to protectionism, saying: "China and EU are both firm supporters of free trade."
Zhang Haizhou in London and Chen Jia in Beijing contributed to this story.