These are exciting times for EU-China relations. Just a few months ago, the two sides agreed to the 2020 Strategic Agenda. The second session of the 12th National People's Congress has just ended in China, and President Xi Jinping will visit Brussels at the end of this month, becoming the first Chinese president to visit the European Union headquarters. The course seems to be set for change.
But will Xi's visit fulfill expectations and push relations to a higher level? His visit to EU institutions will come at the end of a European tour which begins in The Hague with the Nuclear Security Summit on March 24-25. After that he will embark on a three-day visit to France, followed by visits to Germany and Belgium. Xi's intensive series of meetings with European leaders should enable both sides to discuss and agree to the priorities for their relationship. But with the crisis in Ukraine dominating international discussions, it may be difficult to focus on other topics when Xi meets EU leaders.
On the agenda for the meeting with the European Parliament President Martin Schulz are the political, parliamentary and commercial ties between the EU and China. Schulz is likely to bring up China's reticence on the situation in Ukraine and also raise the EU-China human rights dimension relations.
Xi's meeting with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and EU High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton is unlikely to bring about any substantive changes. At the last summit in November, both sides reaffirmed the importance of the strategic partnership established in 2003.
The ambitious EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda awaits implementation, and the Bilateral Investment Treaty negotiations are the focal point of the trade agenda at the moment. Two rounds of negotiations have already been held, and while relations were augmented at last year's summit, it is now time to review the progress made and implement concrete projects.
The meeting is expected to discuss foreign policy and security issues, trade and investment relations, climate change, cyber security, sustainable and inclusive development, and people-to-people exchanges. The flagship urbanization partnership established in 2012 will be reviewed, especially because Premier Li Keqiang's Government Work Report named urbanization as one of China's nine major tasks for 2014.
On the foreign policy side, the leaders will discuss global hot spots such as Ukraine and Syria, as well as issues like security in East Asia. The EU and China are keen to expand their cooperation in foreign policy as can be seen from the first round of their new dialogue on the Middle East and North Africa. The two sides are expected to cooperate more closely on maritime and cyber security too.
Even though nothing radical is expected, Xi's landmark visit to Europe does underline the significance attached to EU-China partnership by both sides. It shows that China considers the EU an important political entity and the schedule of Xi's visit puts the EU in line with China's major bilateral partners France and Germany.