Energy, economy top EU talks with China's likely premier
(BRUSSELS) - China's premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang flew in to Brussels on Tuesday for a visit aimed at tightening the bond between the two trade giants with a slew of energy deals and economic pacts.
Kicking off three days in the European capital with a bilateral visit to Belgium, Vice Premier Li is to sign a farm and an investment fund deal Wednesday with the country's new Socialist premier Elio Di Rupo and meet King Albert II.
"We try to be the gateway to Europe for Chinese investors," said Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders after welcoming China's likely new premier, flying in from Hungary after a visit to Russia.
The Chinese leader, according to Reynders, reiterated Beijing's vow to stick to modernisation, openness and respect of human rights when he takes over as expected from Premier Wen Jiabao.
In Brussels on Wednesday he clinches a deal with the Belgian government to set up an investment fund financed by both countries to help Chinese investors tickled with investment potential in Belgium.
"It's a good possibility for more and more investors from China to come to Belgium and come to Europe," said Reynders.
Turning to the European Union on Thursday, Li will sign off on three joint statements -- on energy security, electricity market reform, and a hands-on "sustainable urbanisation" scheme reflecting "the widening of the agenda" in EU-China relations, as one EU diplomat put it.
Agreed at a February EU-China summit, it aims to bring the two sides together to build energy-efficient green cities as China addresses a historically unprecedented challenge of morphing from rural nation to land of mega-cities.
"Our partnership has deepened in both breadth and depth," the EU said. "We expect these initiatives to bring forward our common agenda."
Highlighting the power focus, energy ministers from the 27-nation bloc will gather in Brussels to meet members of China's National Energy Commission to discuss electricity markets.
And the Belgian leg includes a tour of Umicore, a metals technology giant with a 14.5-billion-euro turnover that refines and recycles precious metals.
Human rights are likely to be raised during talks between Li and Di Rupo as well as with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso after the EU this week urged China to exercise "utmost restraint" in the case of escaped blind activist Chen Guangcheng.
But there will be no press conference during Li's three-day visit, sources from both sides said.
On the trade and economy front, Barroso is expected to raise Europe's hopes of support from China to maintain the stability of the euro and the European economy.
Premier Wen, expected to be replaced by Li when he steps down next year, called Barroso last week on the heels of a tour of four European countries to reassure the EU of Beijing's economic backing.
"Prime Minister Wen reiterated the Chinese support for the actions taken in Europe to overcome the current problems," said Barroso's spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Jansen.
Barroso recalled "the positive impact for the global economy" of the agreement by eurozone countries to stump up $200 billion of a $430-billion crisis coffer put together by the International Monetary Fund.
But though the EU is China's largest trading partner -- trade between the two is worth more than one billion euros per day -- a host of problems remain to be resolved, from a row on rare earths and EU carbon emissions to complaints from European firms of lack of access to China's markets.
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