Li gets to lay out China's vision

Updated: 2013-05-24 08:49

By Jiang Shixue (China Daily)

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Generally, the first overseas trip by leaders of any major country tends to attract great attention from the international media. Premier Li Keqiang's first foreign trip to India, Pakistan, Switzerland and Germany is no different.

Li's trip to Europe is important for the following five reasons:

First, through Li's visit, Europeans will have a good chance to learn more about China's new leadership. Li can take advantage of his European tour to explain the Chinese government's agendas. He can tell his European counterparts and the general public his thoughts on important topics ranging from corruption, the "Chinese dream" and foreign policy to the sustainability of the Chinese economy. A deeper mutual understanding is important for strengthening China-EU relations.

Second, Li's visit to Europe comes at a time when the EU is on the verge of a trade war with China over solar panel imports, which is worth 21 billion euros a year. On Sept 6, 2012, the EU launched an anti-dumping investigation into imports of solar panels and their key components (solar cells and solar wafers) that originate in China. According to an EU official document, EU ProSun, an industry association, claimed in its complaint lodged on July 25, 2012, that solar panels and their key components imported from China enter the European market at prices below market value. The EU is reportedly proposing a tough 47 percent anti-dumping tariff to limit the imports.

China has urged the EU to "seriously consider China's suggestions to settle the dispute through dialogue" and to work together to "find a solution acceptable to both sides". "If the EU stubbornly insists on handicapping the product, seriously damaging the interests of Chinese companies, the Chinese government will not idly stand by," said a senior official with the Ministry of Commerce.

A trade war between China and the EU will result in a lose-lose outcome. Li has a golden opportunity to express China's position to the European business community.

Third, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the comprehensive partnership between China and the EU as well as the publication of China's first policy paper on the EU. The past decade has proven that China-EU relations cannot and will not be affected if the two sides address their disagreements in a spirit of equality and mutual respect.

Fourth, Li will attend the signing of a free trade agreement between China and Switzerland. The significance of China's FTA with Switzerland lies in the fact that China has increasingly recognized the necessity of pursuing bilateral free trade arrangements and at the same time wishes to see a successful and rapid conclusion to the Doha Round of talks.

Finally, Li's visit will further promote bilateral relations between China and Germany. Former premier Wen Jiabao had good relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. This personal relationship has consolidated the political foundations of China-Germany ties. Therefore, Li's trip to Germany will likely maintain this special relationship's momentum.

Some Europeans are reportedly jealous about the good relations between China and Germany. Some are even concerned that Berlin could replace Brussels in dealing with EU relations with China.

This sentiment, if true, is far fetched. Any bilateral relations are special in formality and nature. But it does not mean that relations between China and Germany have been proceeding to the detriment to other EU members. Improved ties between China and Germany are constructive for the relations between China and the EU. Li's trip to Germany serves this purpose.

The author is professor and deputy director of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily 05/24/2013 page7)