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China, EU 'to renew ties'

By Fu Jing in Brussels and Zhao Shengnan in Beijing  (China Daily)

08:21, April 28, 2013

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) shakes hands with Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, during their talks in Beijing, capital of China, April 27, 2013. (Xinhua/Xie Huanchi)

First visit by top EU official to Beijing since the accession of new leadership

China and the European Union on Saturday pledged to promote their mid- and long-term cooperation plan, address disputes and strengthen coordination over international affairs, as the first top-ranking EU official visited China under its new leadership.

China values relations with the EU, and will continue supporting the integration of the 27-member bloc, and deepen the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told visiting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"You are the very first head of an EU institution to visit China after the inauguration of the new government in China," said Wang, adding the visit's timing was symbolic of the importance "placed by both the EU and you yourself on the Chinese-EU relationship".

Ashton, who is also a vice-president of the European Commission, said the European side would like to expand cooperation with China in the field of green economics and global security.

Before departing Brussels, Ashton had said in a statement that given China's recent change in leadership, it was time "to renew ties".

China's once-a-decade leadership transition saw Wang become foreign minister last month, while his predecessor, Yang Jiechi, moved up to be a State Councilor, as the country's top foreign policy official.

Ashton also met China's top political adviser Yu Zhengsheng, Yang and new Defense Minister Chang Wanquan.

While listening to Beijing's stances on Europe's economic problems and key global issues - including Syria and the Korean Peninsula nuclear issues - Ashton would have done warm-up work for the upcoming EU-China Strategic Dialogue in June, said Pierre Defraigne, executive director of Madariaga-College of Europe Foundation.

Ashton would also have focused on the eurozone's stabilization, which is critical for preserving the unity of the EU Single Market and therefore the capacity of Europe to contain protectionism, especially vis-a-vis China, Defraigne said.

The EU has been China's largest trading partner for eight consecutive years and China has emerged as the EU's second largest trading partner. But ties have been strained at times by disputes over market access.

"I think she is very keen on seeing a better relationship between the EU and China, not only being better in the political way but also economically, as we are in trouble in Europe," said Frederic Carlier, an analyst with the Belgium-based FCA Consultancy Services.

"The leaders should face these troubles squarely, recognize their severity and put them on the table," Carlier said.

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