CHINA - Nearly 100 agreements are expected to be reached during Premier Li Keqiang's upcoming second visit to Europe this year, which starts on Thursday and underlines increasingly closer cooperation between China and Europe.
The expected deals cover a range of sectors including industrial cooperation, energy, high-speed railways, finance, science and education, according to the Foreign Ministry.
Li will visit Germany, Russia, Italy and the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation headquarters in Rome from Thursday to Wednesday of next week, and will attend the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting summit in Milan on Oct 16 and 17.
Peter Ho, a professor at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, said Europe plays an important role in China's foreign diplomacy, as it is the country's largest trading partner.
He said Europe and China share a mutual interest in being able to enjoy maximum access to each other's markets, as trade flows have exceeded $1 trillion (S$1.28 trillion) in recent years.
"The EU is a vast market for Chinese goods. For China, the EU is also a critical counterbalance to the US market," he said.
But Ho noted that trade is not the only issue. The EU in geopolitical terms also fulfills a complementary, sometimes buffering role on the international political stage between China and the US. The visits of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li and underscore the important international political role that the EU plays.
"The crisis in Ukraine and its effects on world peace, the situation in Syria with regard to the Islamic State as well as the European economic situation, which currently seems to be facing an economic downturn, might also have great influence on China," he said.
Wang Chao, China's vice-foreign minister, said the first leg of the visit will see the governments come up with a comprehensive plan that will integrate all sectors of cooperation and take it to new heights.
Marc Szepan, co-director of the Economy and Business Research Area at Berlin-based think tank Mercator Institute for China Studies, said the defining characteristic of the relationship between Germany and China is that it's a strategic partnership based on mutual trust.
"I expect that with Premier Li and his team going to Germany, this tradition of strategic partnership and trust and constructive and open dialogue among partners will continue. The fast and substantial development of the Chinese economy positions China to become a much more significant contributor to the global world order," Szepan said.
"What we have seen recently is China becoming a much more active contributor－it's contributing to anti-piracy operations, for example. China has now started contributing to peacekeeping operations, for example in South Sudan, and the more China rises the more it is in a position to positively contribute to the international order and in more tangible ways, like to the budget of the United Nations."