Li's visit deepens ties with Europe

Updated: 2014-06-24 07:12

By Fraser Cameron (China Daily)

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China has declared 2014 "the year of Europe" and its top leaders are making every effort to deepen relations with the European Union and its member states. Two months ago President Xi Jinping paid a historic visit to EU headquarters in Brussels after visits to the Netherlands, France and Germany. Premier Li Keqiang visited the United Kingdom and Greece last week as a further demonstration of China's interest in deepening relations with Europe.

Sino-British relations had suffered after Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama in 2012. Now relations have been described as "very close" by the British prime minister who said that Chinese investment in the UK during the past two years was higher than in the previous three decades. This closeness was perhaps best symbolized by the queen inviting Premier Li to tea at Windsor Castle, an honor rarely bestowed on foreign dignitaries who are not head of state.

Li said that he had three main reasons for visiting the UK at this time: to deepen economic cooperation; to learn from Britain's experience in modernization; and to change misperceptions and ease misgivings about China.

The visit certainly led to closer economic cooperation with over $20 billion of business deals signed. These include major investments by the China Development Bank in the new High Speed 2 rail network and the next generation of nuclear power stations. There was also agreement on energy cooperation with a major 20 year deal on the supply of liquefied natural gas signed between BP and the China National Offshore Oil Corporation.

Another deal agreed was between the UK's MAP Environmental and China's ZN Shine Solar to set up a joint venture to purchase, develop, and manage solar panel assets. The project will involve a three year construction program in conjunction with some of the UK's largest engineering and construction contractors.

Perhaps of most significance was the agreement to encourage CDB and Bank of China lending in the UK as well as trading in the renminbi, which will open up two-way trade opportunities. This agreement should strengthen London's hopes to be the major center outside Hong Kong for trading in the renminbi.

The UK also announced a simplified visa procedure for Chinese businessmen and tourists visiting the UK. In the future one visa will allow them to visit the UK and the Schengen area covering all EU countries.

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