Premier Li Keqiang touched down at Brussels Airport on April 8, beginning a five-day trip aimed at sending a clear signal to the world of the growing mutual trust and deepening strategic cooperation between China and European nations.
Premier Li is in Belgium for the 21st China-EU Leaders’ Meeting. He will also make an official visit to Croatia and attend the eighth Leaders’ Meeting of China and Central and Eastern European Countries in the coastal city of Dubrovnik.
He is scheduled to meet with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on April 9 at the European Union headquarters in the Belgian capital.
The leaders of the two sides will exchange views on China-EU relations and major international and regional issues of common concern. A number of agreements are to be signed after that.
This is Premier Li’s fifth time attending the China-EU leaders’ meeting as premier, and his sixth visit to a Central and Eastern European nation to attend the China-CEEC meeting, with the previous five being in Romania, Serbia, Latvia, Hungary and Bulgaria.
Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Chao, who oversees China’s relations with EU nations, said at a briefing last week that the EU is a highly integrated regional bloc and a vital strategic force in the international community. China and the EU share broad common interests in pragmatic cooperation and have a common stance regarding multilateralism and free trade, he said.
The EU has been China’s biggest trading partner for 15 consecutive years and China is the regional bloc’s second-largest trading partner after the United States, with bilateral trade hitting $682 billion last year, said Zhang Ming, head of the Chinese Mission to the EU. So far, 22 European countries have signed memorandums of understanding with China to promote the Belt and Road Initiative, with Italy and Luxembourg the most recent examples, he said.
Chen Fengying, a senior researcher at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said that Premier Li’s European trip is to further enhance high-level exchanges and political trust between China and the EU, following President Xi Jinping’s visit to Italy, Monaco and France last month.
Both sides support the multilateral trading system and face challenges posed by rising protectionism and unilateralism to economic globalization and multilateralism, Chen said. On the global geopolitical stage, China is developing at a very fast pace with an enormous economic scale, Chen said.
“As a huge market, China has reiterated its opening-up (policy) to the outside world, including to European countries. Therefore, both sides should strengthen cooperation and exchanges in areas such as trade, investment and the Belt and Road Initiative,” she said.
On the China-CEEC leaders’ meeting, Chen said the “16+1” mechanism has made good achievements in economic cooperation over the past several years, including freight trains running between China and Europe. The mechanism should continue focusing on concrete projects in infrastructure and other key areas, she said.
People-to-people exchanges, including education and tourism, should also be strengthened to improve mutual understanding between their people, Chen added.