Top leaders step up focus on Europe
Several top Chinese leaders are staging serial European visits - something that is rarely seen - in a move that suggests Beijing is attaching increasing significance to the forging of ties with countries in the region.
The visits by three members of the Politburo Standing Committee and the country's highest-ranked female politician will span the continent and come at time when the country is still feeling the aftershocks of a political crisis following the ousting of Politburo colleague and Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai.
Premier Wen Jiabao left Beijing yesterday for a week-long visit to Iceland, Germany, Sweden and Poland. Vice-Premier Li Keqiang will pay an official visit to Russia late this month. Beijing's propaganda tsar Li Changchun has just left Britain and State Councillor Liu Yandong is currently visiting Europe.
'It suggests that Beijing is increasingly attaching strategic and economic importance to the continent in its effort to build a multipolar world,' said Professor Jin Canrong, deputy dean of Renmin University's school of international relations.
While acknowledging that it is rare for so many top leaders to be in one region in such a short period of time, Jin said there were several reasons for the coincidence.
First, this year marks the 40th anniversary of China's normalisation of diplomatic ties with many European nations.
April and May are also less busy months on the mainland's political agenda, coming between last month's annual session of the National People's Congress and preparations in June for a meeting the following month, previously known as the Beidaihe meeting, where top leaders gather for important political decisions.
The visit to Russia by premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang suggests an increasingly close diplomatic alliance between Beijing and Moscow in an effort to check US dominance in international affairs. In one recent example, the two nations vetoed a Western-led alliance's motion in the United Nations to impose sanctions on Syria's repressive government.
In their meeting with Li Changchun, who ranks fifth among the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague raised the death of British businessman Neil Heywood, who was allegedly murdered by Bo's wife and an aide.
Liu, the only female Politburo member and the top official in charge of education, sport and cultural affairs, is visiting Brussels, Cyprus and London to promote cultural and educational exchanges.
While Europe is looking to Beijing for financial aid to counter its debt crisis, China is looking for more trade and investment opportunities in the region.
Wen and other top officials have said that Beijing is willing to aid European nations, such as increasing its involvement in the European Financial Stability Facility, while also calling for bold steps by Europe to improve trade ties, including recognising China as a market economy.
Jin said that the ongoing euro-zone crisis was likely to be high on the agenda in all encounters between visiting Chinese leaders and their hosts. The sovereign debt crisis had made Chinese and European Union leaders more eager than ever to deepen their partnerships.