EU president seeks closer ties with China

Updated: 2011-05-15 15:39


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EU president seeks closer ties with China
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy addresses a news conference at the end of an European Union leaders summit in Brussels in this March 25, 2011 file photograph. [Photo/Agencies] 

BRUSSELS/BEIJING - The most senior official of the European Union (EU) on Sunday started his first official visit to China, on a mission to seek closer trade and political ties with Beijing needed for a stronger Europe.

"I come here as a friend of China with respect and trust, and a strong conviction in honest dialogue," said Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.

"I see China's rapid economic development and rise on the global scene as a major window of opportunity for Europe and for elevating our strategic relations to a new level," he said in an op-ed article targeting the Chinese media.

The president wrote the article entitled "Managing change in an interdependent world" as a response to interview requests from Xinhua. He did not take any interviews on the trip, according to his press office.

"Interdependence is the political reality of today. Managing this interdependence is one of the great challenges of our young century," he wrote, urging the EU and China to become intimate partners in adapting to global changes.

Van Rompuy, the first long-term and full-time president of the European Council since 2009 under the Lisbon Treaty, was scheduled to visit Chengdu, capital of China's southwestern province of Sichuan, on Sunday after arriving in Beijing earlier in the day.

In Chengdu, he would visit the EU's bamboo project in the earthquake reconstruction zone and the project of "Save the Children" plus a meeting with Liu Qibao, secretary of the Sichuan Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China, according to a press release by the council on Friday.

The president, hoping to see "the different angles of contemporary China," was also scheduled to visit Beijing and Shanghai to hold talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice President Xi Jinping.

"This visit underscores the strategic importance the European Union attaches to our relationship and the political investments at its highest level," Van Rompuy said in the article.

Seeking support for the Euro

As the EU's top leader that represents the bloc's 27 member states including the 17-nation euro zone, Van Rompuy was expecting something more pragmatic from his China visit than just putting icing on the cake of rosy China-EU relations.

The EU is pinning hope on China to shore up its market confidence as Beijing keeps buying distressed European debts to help stabilize the euro zone's finance that has been dragged down by the sovereign debt crisis for 18 months.

"China has been supportive to euro area countries facing difficulties experimented by the euro, just as the EU supports China's stable development with investment and technology," Van Rompuy said.

"We are becoming part of the solution of the other side's challenges."

Statistics show that China is now the EU's second largest trading partner, and the EU is China's largest trading partner and export market. China-EU trade in goods was valued at nearly 400 billion euros ($564 billion) last year, up over 30 percent from that of 2009, while trade in services and foreign direct investments has also been growing.

China's foreign currency reserves in the first quarter reached $3.05 trillion, among which the euro was the primary alternative to the dollar.

The president, in an apparent attempt to boost the confidence of Chinese investors, stressed that the euro is "a sound, strong and healthy currency."

Producing more than 20 percent of the world's GDP, Europe is "a single market and clearly a good place to invest and to reach out 500 millions of consumers," he said.

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