The increasing number of exchanges among top leaders of China and Europe highlights their closer interdependency, European Union Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said ahead of Vice-Premier Li Keqiang's visit to the EU.
Premier Wen Jiabao just wrapped up his four-country European tour, and Li's 10-day trip has taken him to Russia, Hungary, Belgium and the European Union headquarters. The visits took place after European leaders held their annual summit with Beijing in February, signing a five-page communique to boost political trust, bilateral trade and investment activities.
"I think their visits here reflect a continued interest on China's side on the potential of Europe's market, not the least of which is on the economic and trade side," De Gucht told China Daily in an interview.
As it's been widely suggested that Europe needs China due to its rising economic clout, De Gucht said he is pleased to see that experts and observers have increasingly recognized how interdependent the two economies have become and that China needs Europe just as much or even more.
"People should not forget that Europe is still the world's No 1 economy," De Gucht said.
It's important to have opportunities to discuss a wide range of issues related to the bilateral relationship, and to make as much progress as possible, De Gucht said. "So, we very much welcome that this type of exchange takes place - both in Europe and in China," De Gucht said.
China is also keen on deepening relations with Europe. The country's new ambassador to the European Union Wu Hailong said recently that the two sides will see the record number of top visits move relations to a new level.
In February, leaders from both sides pledged to discuss several significant issues such as investment pacts and granting China's market economy status. De Gucht said both sides will see significant benefits if Beijing and Brussels deepen investment cooperation.
Europeans would like to invest in more sectors in China with fewer restrictions, he said. This will create even more growth, jobs and development in China. "We should set all sails to tap this vast untapped potential between us," De Gucht said.
Chinese investors have also showed interest in investing in Europe. De Gucht said Chinese investment in the European market has increased significantly in recent years.
Chinese investors have complained of difficulties due to language and cultural barriers, a complicated legal system and problems with obtaining a visa in Europe.
According to De Gucht, investment negotiations would include all issues of interest to both sides, including market access, which is a key issue for the EU, De Gucht said. "I look forward to moving ahead on this in my discussions with Commerce Minister Chen Deming," he said. A timetable for the pact has not been set.
The two sides agreed at the EU-China Summit in February to stress the importance of reaching a resolution to the market economy status issue in a "swift and comprehensive" way. De Gucht said this is an important question for China.
"We will continue to work with China in this spirit," De Gucht said.
Progress on this issue is possible as China meets clear technical criteria, he said. Most laws in China are in place, but there needs to be more progress on the implementation and enforcement of these laws.
"As this is clearly up to China, then it also follows that the timing of the conclusion on its market economy status is also largely in China's hands," said De Gucht, adding that EU experts have invited their Chinese counterparts to discuss the market economy status issue.
But some Chinese and European experts said the market economy status issue is a political card being held by politicians from Brussels. Nearly 100 countries have recognized China's status, and some have signed free trade agreement with the world's second-biggest economy.
An official source said Beijing is keen on negotiating with Brussels on the market economy status issue. But if the cost is too high, Beijing will not accept the conditions, the source said. Brussels will automatically grant China market economy status in 2016, according to an accession document that China signed when it entered the World Trade Organization in 2001.
Last year, EU's exports to China rose more than 20 percent to 136 billion euros ($180 billion), and trade with China reached a record high of 428 billion euros - well over a billion euros a day.
"And even if we continue to have a big trade deficit, our China exports grew significantly more than our imports," De Gucht said.