BEIJING, June 11 -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is to visit Britain and Greece next week -- his third trip to Europe since taking office in March last year and China's latest waltz with the continent following President Xi Jinping's tour in late March.
From Central and Eastern Europe to Northern, Southern and Western Europe, and from continental Europe to Britain, the footprints of the Chinese leaders are highly demonstrative of the great importance Beijing attaches to China-Europe ties.
CHINA-BRITAIN TIES: CLEARING HURDLES AND PRESSING AHEAD
As for the China-Britain dimension in specific, Li's upcoming visit is of particular significance.
It indicates that the two sides have managed to ride out a rough patch in their relationship and put bilateral interaction back on the right track.
In November 2010, just half a year after becoming the British prime minister, David Cameron traveled to China.
However, relations between the two global heavyweights took a nosedive in May 2012 when Cameron insisted on meeting the Dalai Lama despite Beijing's objections.
Not till more than one and a half years later did the icy China-Britain relationship begin to thaw.
In October a high-level British delegation headed by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne visited China, and in December Beijing played host to Cameron.
Cameron's visit to China "served as a sign that China-Britain relations had returned to normal," commented Ma Zhengang, a former ambassador to Britain.
Li's trip is to build upon the momentum and infuse new vigor into the China-Britain comprehensive strategic partnership, which observes its 10th anniversary this year and boasts increasing strategic, reciprocal and global significance.
Bilateral trade exceeded the historic mark of 70 billion U.S. dollars in 2013 and recorded an 11-percent upswing year on year, remarkably higher than the 2.1-percent growth for the overall China-Europe trade.
More encouraging than the numbers is the quality of bilateral economic cooperation. China has replaced Germany as the largest source of Britain' s imports of machinery and electronic products, and Chinese investment in Britain is soaring. Moreover, China is partaking in the construction of a nuclear power plant in Britain, and eyeing investment in British high-speed rail projects.
Also noteworthy is bilateral financial cooperation. The London City, which witnessed a 50-percent rise in RMB transactions last year, has grown into the second largest offshore RMB market, only next to Hong Kong, and the Chinese premier is meet with Britain's financial elite during his stay in London.
Cooperation between China and Britain enjoys huge potential, said Ma, the former ambassador, noting that Britain's relatively ageing infrastructure presents great opportunities for Chinese investors and exporters.
China, he added, also possesses considerable advantages in such sectors as nuclear power and high-speed rail thanks to the advanced technology it has developed and the competitive cost-effectiveness of its products.
CHINA AND GREECE: OLD CIVILIZATIONS, NEW PARTNERS
The good relationship between China and Greece is evident in the staunch support Greece has provided over the recent years for China on issues of the latter's major interests.
In 2011, the European country offered assistance to China' s evacuation of its nationals from war-torn Libya.
Before that, as the birthplace of Olympic Games, it strongly supported the 2008 Beijing Games.
The upcoming visit by Premier Li to Greece will underscore the broad prospect of cooperation between the two countries, noted Cui Hongjian, director of Europe research at the China Institute of International Studies.
As the highlight of the visit, the Chinese premier and his Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras will jointly inspect the Piraeus port near Athens, part of which is operated China' s state-owned shipping giant China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co (COSCO) under a 35-year lease signed in 2009.
It was the first time that a Chinese firm has ever been granted operation rights to an oversea port. Latest statistics show the port' s annual handling capacity surged from 685,000 TEUs in 2010 to 2.52 million last year.
Experts say the Piraeus port has brought benefits to the local people by attracting investment and creating jobs, and it is also a successful case of Chinese enterprises' "going abroad" endeavors, enhancing their international competitiveness and boosting exports.
The visit by the Chinese premier is widely expected to further expand practical cooperation between China and Greece in such fields as economy and trade, shipping, oil and gas, tourism and maritime affairs.
During the visit, Li will also attend a forum on the maritime cooperation between China and Greece and deliver a speech to expound China' s views on maritime issues.
"It is a very appropriate time and occasion. It is of great significance for the Chinese government to clarify its position (on maritime issues) in a country seen as the origin of marine civilization," said Cui.
Experts say China, a country of vast maritime territory, should stand firmly in safeguarding its maritime rights while unswervingly pursue the road of peaceful development.
Committed to resolving territorial and maritime disputes by peaceful means, China has become an important force in promoting regional and global peace and development.
CHINA-EU COOPERATION HEADS FOR PROMISING FUTURE
"The world of today is experiencing profound and complex changes. As important actors in a multipolar world, China and the EU share responsibility for promoting peace, prosperity and sustainable development for the benefit of all,"says the China-EU 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation signed last November.
"They agree to continue to consolidate and develop their strategic partnership to the benefit of both sides, based on the principles of equality, respect and trust, " it said.
This year is the first year for the implementation of the document, which also marks the starting of series of subjects of China-EU cooperation.
Britain, a major EU member, is one of the most influential countries all over the world, while Greece, the cradle of European civilization and an important EU member state, holds the EU' s rotating presidency in the first half of 2014.
The development of China-Britain and China-Greece relations plays a unique and important role for the strengthening of China-EU relationship.
"Britain and Greece are two important EU members with distinguishing characteristics in Europe, so one of the tasks for Premier Li is to comprehensively promote and facilitate the implementation of China-EU cooperation," said Cui from China Institute of International Studies.
"No doubt, boosting relations with those EU members will lead and promote the overall cooperation between China and EU to a new level," Cui added.
Analysts say, China-EU relations will meet far-more opportunities than challenges in its future development. Li' s visit would help the two sides to strengthen the foundation of their relationship, work closer on international and regional issues, maintain global peace and stability and promote win-win results and development for the two sides.
"The China-EU relationship has experienced fast and comprehensive development in recent years. Specifically, they integrated their future development strategies through the signing of the China-EU 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, and they will find more opportunities to deepen cooperation from the development of each other," said Cui.