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European Central Bank

Annual summit draws some of Europe's most powerful leaders

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2007, 12:00am

Beijing will play host to a handful of Europe's most powerful leaders next week as they gather in the capital for the annual China-EU summit and a series of high-level meetings on the sidelines.

Currency issues and trade deficits are expected to top the agenda, while intellectual property rights, China's African policies and regional security issues like the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes will also be discussed.

A co-operative agreement expanding the China-EU partnership beyond trade is also on the agenda.

European Council president and Portugese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, and European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson will be attending the 10th China-EU Leaders' Meeting on Wednesday, hosted by President Hu Jintao , Premier Wen Jiabao and Commerce Minister Bo Xilai .

Three top European financial decision-makers - Eurogroup president Jean-Claude Juncker, European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet, and EU Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs Joaquin Almunia - will also visit Beijing during the week. And the fourth EU-China Business Summit will be held in Beijing as the leaders meet.

Tomorrow, French President Nicolas Sarkozy starts a state visit to China, his first since he took office in May. He is expected to conclude a string of business deals and sign a bilateral declaration on environmental issues.

But despite the large EU delegation and Mr Sarkozy's visit, mainland experts do not expect major breakthroughs to be achieved next week. Nor will the meeting be overly affected by German Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent reception of the Dalai Lama - which was condemned by Beijing. 'The effect will be limited to Sino-German relations,' Professor Feng Zhongping of the Centre for European Studies at Renmin University said.

Mr Sarkozy's visit is also unlikely to touch on anything politically sensitive. 'It will be more of a courtesy call than [an effort] to achieve anything concrete. Mr Sarkozy's own domestic situation is rather insecure right now,' the centre's Professor Zhang Xiaojing said.

Trade will remain the centrepiece of the meetings. Given a strong euro and the yuan's continued tracking of the US dollar, the Chinese currency's depreciation against the euro has become more acute - on top of China's swelling trade surplus with her European trading partners. But these were issues on which Beijing had adopted a firm stance and there would be no quick solution, experts said.

Although Sino-EU relations would remain 'stable' on the whole, University of International Business and Economics Professor Shi Shiwei said Beijing was also approaching the meetings with caution.

The leaders of two major EU member countries had changed since the last summit, and the EU had recently been shifting its focus from a relationship based on trade alone to 'value systems'.

'The relationship emphasised trade benefits in the past, and spoke little of value systems,' Professor Shi said. But since October last year, the EU had been emphasising 'closer partnership, growing responsibilities'.

Climate change, energy security, and Africa were all areas where the EU wanted China to take on more global responsibilities.

And in relation to trade, 'there are also signs that the EU is moving away from a dialogue-first relationship towards a United States modus operandi of exerting pressure on China for compliance,' Professor Shi said.