Xi’s EU visit geared toward international issues and free trade

By Liu Zuokui Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-23 18:48:01

Recent years have seen growing interactions between China and the EU. Trade, strategic dialogue and cultural exchange have become the three pillars that support Sino-EU relations. On Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping started his first state visit to Europe since he took office.

Xi is the first Chinese president to visit the EU headquarters in Brussels. His itinerary shows that dealing with European powers and the EU organizations is the focus of China's EU policy, and boosting economic cooperation will be given priority in the future.

In November, the two sides decided to initiate negotiations on the China-EU Investment Protocol, which has marked a good beginning of the bilateral economic cooperation.

But it is not easy to advance the process since hurdles still remain.

The EU's expectations about the protocol are much higher than China's. Both sides still have substantial controversies concerning investment protection and market access.

During Xi's visit, the EU, which is eager to take advantage of China's massive market, will probably ask for wider access. China, which focuses on investment protection and is cautious of wider access jeopardizing its market, will adjust its strategies. China and the EU will make a more balanced progress on this issue during these days.

The free trade zone (FTZ) between China and the EU also remains a heated subject. Although it is still unlikely that China and the EU will initiate negotiations in the near future, the EU has already been in the process of employing the FTZ strategy around the world to boost the development of its economy.

In Asia, since South Korea became an FTZ partner with the EU, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Japan have joined. China, though concerned about the side effects of the FTZ, has also signed a couple of FTZ agreements with non-EU European countries such as Switzerland and Iceland. These could serve as pilot projects before China starts negotiations with the EU about FTZ.

Besides the economic issues, there are many other issues on the agenda, such as how to share experiences and boost cooperation over urbanization.

International political issues, especially the thorny Ukraine crisis, may be discussed. Ukraine is a hub that is essential to China's new Silk Road economic belt. The EU may urge China to strengthen collaboration with it on the Ukraine issue. Nonetheless, China needs to take comprehensive considerations and make preparations to make sure Ukraine's situation won't harm its interests.

Economic cooperation is the pivot of China-EU relations. The interdependence between China and the EU is represented not only by the massive trade volume, but also by the dramatic development of intra-industry trade.

Xi's visit will establish a benchmark for China-EU trade, making sure the bilateral economic relationship will develop in a fast and sustainable manner with a strategic orientation.

The author is vice director of the Department of Central and Eastern European Studies, Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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