Energy, economy top EU talks with China's likely premier
China's likely next premier Li Keqiang will sign clean energy deals with the EU when he flies in Tuesday for a visit set to strengthen bonds between the two trade giants and tackle global economic issues.
Kicking off three days in Brussels with an official visit to Belgium, Vice Premier Li on Wednesday meets its new Socialist premier Elio Di Rupo as well as King Albert II.
Turning to the European Union on Thursday, Li will sign off on three joint statements -- on energy security, electricity market reform, and a hands-on "sustainable urbanisation" scheme reflecting "the widening of the agenda" in EU-China relations, as one EU diplomat put it.
Agreed at a February EU-China summit, it aims to bring the two sides together to build energy-efficient green cities as China addresses a historically unprecedented challenge of morphing from rural nation to land of mega-cities.
"Our partnership has deepened in both breadth and depth," the EU said. "We expect these initiatives to bring forward our common agenda."
Highlighting the power focus, energy ministers from the 27-nation bloc will gather in Brussels to meet members of China's National Energy Commission to discuss electricity markets.
And the Belgian leg includes a tour of Umicore, a metals technology giant with a 14.5-billion-euro turnover that refines and recycles precious metals.
Human rights are likely to be raised during talks between Li and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso after the EU this week urged China to exercise "utmost restraint" in the case of escaped blind activist Chen Guangcheng.
But there will be no press conference during Li's three-day visit, sources from both sides said.
On the trade and economy front, Barroso is expected to raise Europe's hopes of support from China to maintain the stability of the euro and the European economy.
Premier Wen Jiabao, expected to be replaced by Li when he steps down next year, called Barroso last week on the heels of a tour of four European countries to reassure the EU of Beijing's economic backing.
"Prime Minister Wen reiterated the Chinese support for the actions taken in Europe to overcome the current problems," said Barroso's spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Jansen.
Barroso recalled "the positive impact for the global economy" of the agreement by eurozone countries to stump up $200 billion of a $430-billion crisis coffer put together by the International Monetary Fund.
But though the EU is China's largest trading partner -- trade between the two is worth more than one billion euros per day -- a host of problems remain to be resolved, from a row on rare earths and EU carbon emissions to complaints from European firms of lack of access to China's markets.