Should China come to the rescue in the deepening European debt crisis? That issue has dominated international media coverage and sparked heated debate among Chinese internet users over the past week. Commentators both inside and outside China are sceptical that Beijing, presiding over the world's fastest growing economy with the largest exchange reserves, may act as a buyer of last resort to bail out Europe by making a substantial purchase of euro-zone bonds. In online chat rooms, the feelings of many Chinese internet users are reflected in a cynical but increasingly popular saying that those who eat congee and pickles are being asked to help those who feast on steak and French wine. While it is difficult to foresee China as Europe's saviour, it is equally lopsided to dismiss Beijing's intentions and capabilities to lend a helping hand. Scanning international media reports, one cannot help but notice some misconceptions about China's possible role in the European debt crisis. Ever since news broke last week that China may be considering buying Italian bonds, particularly after Premier Wen Jiabao indicated a helping hand and expanded investment in Europe, commentators have tried to envision the unlikely scenario of Beijing promptly splashing billions of US dollars to buy euro-zone debt. They concluded that Beijing was not that foolish, noting that Wen had been vague on how, or how much, China would help. How right they are. It is blazingly obvious that Wen and other Chinese officials are being vague for good reason, at a time when Europe is seen as divisive and lacking a broad strategy, amid an ongoing conflict between member countries and the central bank. Wen has rightly pointed out that those 'countries must first put their own houses in order' and signal their intentions to act responsibly - as a prudent lender always asks before parting with money. In addition, some Western commentators have taken issue with Wen setting terms for helping Europe by asking for recognition of China as a full-market economy, thus boosting exports hindered by EU import tariffs. In some corners, China has been painted as a not-so white knight by attaching conditions. But one seldom-asked question is this - is there any better time for China to extract more concessions from Europe? Having said that, it is also in China's geopolitical and economic interests that it help Europe as much as it can, not least because this could boost China's role in international financial diplomacy, and help push for a new global financial and economic order dominated by the US and Europe. Simply put, it is also in line with China's domestic interests to help one of its largest trading partners, as falling orders from Europe could jeopardise millions of Chinese jobs. More purchases of euro-denominated debt will also help Beijing diversify its reserves away from the US dollar, as it is already the biggest foreign owner of US government debt. So what can Beijing do exactly? To begin with, it can greatly boost imports from Europe and expand its investments there, as those actions are also in line with China's monumental efforts to rebalance its economy and ease pressure on the appreciation of the yuan. China can import a great deal more technologies from European countries. Narrowing the trade deficits and boosting its outward investment have become top priorities in China's current five-year plan. For instance, Beijing has planned to boost its annual outward investment to the same level of the annual inward foreign direct investment, at about US$100 billion. In particular, Europe's crisis could help open doors for mainland investments, which were viewed with suspicion until recently - the controversy over a private Chinese businessman's plan to buy a large tract of land in Iceland being the latest example. The irony is not lost on many observers that when the Italian government reportedly turned to China for help, its point man on discussions with the Chinese officials was Giulio Tremonti, the country's finance minister, who reportedly wrote extensively in the past about his fears of China's 'reverse colonisation' of Europe. While Beijing's efforts would bring long-term benefits for Europe, they are unlikely to provide immediate relief for the crisis. As to whether Beijing is willing to increase its purchase of euro-zone bonds in the near future, that question will be answered soon enough. Wen is scheduled to visit Europe next month, and he will likely be bearing a gift of some sort, which has long been a tradition for Chinese leaders visiting overseas.