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Chinese Permier Wen Jiabao met the European Commission in Brussels on 30 January, as part of a tour taking in Davos, Berlin, London and Madrid. Paris was excluded because President Sarkozy recently met the Dalai Lama. Germany was previously punished and relations have been reasonably restored.

Timing

“This visit is intended to have a lot of symbolic value. I think the Spring Festival time was chosen for good reason.” explained Zhou Hong of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “China wants to show it’s ready for a fresh start after the recent troubles, ready to expand communication and coordination, especially over the financial crisis.”

Wen’s diplomats describe his seven-day visit to Europe as a “journey of confidence”

Meeting at the Commission

The atmosphere at the meetings was excellent. Premier Wen was charming. The Chinese delegation was very constructive, determined that the issue of their cancellation of the November summit in Lyons is now behind the two parties and to move on. There was no aggression.

There will be a summit in Europe under the Czech Presidency. At the moment one is also scheduled for Beijng and one in Beijing under the Swedish Presidency. In my view, two summits are too many.

The High Level Economic & Trade Dialogue will take place in April, but the date has not been fixed.

Nine cooperation agreements were signed, the most important being the agreement to strengthen cooperation on protecting intellectual property rights and on preventing illicit imports of chemical substances used for synthetic drug production. China is the largest source of counterfeit goods in the EU.

Other agreements signed included an action plan to combat counterfeiting, including the sharing of information by customs officials on both sides: an extension of academic exchange programmes; and agreements on the environment and civil aviation.

The EU will give €60m China to help combat illegal drugs trade, bolster copyright protection for EU companies operating in China and other projects.Two major issues discussed were financial cooperation and climate change. It was agreed that the two sides needed closer ties to deal with the global financial crisis and climate change, neither being solvable without strong cooperation between China and the EU. Discussions were constructive on these subjects.

The EU urged Wen to increase the value of the RMB. Wen argued that China’s currency policy was correct. The RMB has appreciated by 20% against the US dollar since 2005 (nb but less against the euro), and that stability of the Chinese currency is needed to maintain a reasonable and balanced basis and, to play a positive role in stabilizing international finance and the economy.

The premier, who last visited Brussels in 2004, noted that mutual trust between the EU and China had increased, and this has played a big role in boosting China-EU relations. “A strong Europe can ensure a multi-polar world. The biggest country in the world and the biggest group of countries in the world will create a big impact on the world”, he said.The feeling was that the long term relationship must be strengthened. The key tests of the depth of bilateral relations will be the G20 summit in London in April on the economic and financial crises and discussions on climate change ahead of the UN-sponsored talks in Copenhagen this December climate change.

Wen is also wanting to persuade Europe and the rest of the world that the Chinese government wishes to help the broader efforts to lift the global economy out of its slump. There is also slower growth and rising unemployment in China. (nb the Premier is unlikely to change the position that China must first use its savings to bolster domestic growth.

PS There were Partnership & Cooperation Agreement (PCA) negotiations in Beijng in the last few days. Significantly, the non-proliferation clause was agreed. There are now around 24 clauses in play, 14 of which have been agreed and 6 nearly agreed.

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