A 300-strong team of Chinese buyers has left for Europe on a multi-billion shopping spree, according to Chinese state media. The procurement squad will visit Germany, Spain, Switzerland and the UK.
China has the deepest pockets in the world
Some reports put the price tag of the trip at 15 billion yuan (1.71 billion euros, $2.2 billion), while others believe that the amount could be considerably higher, according to China Daily.
But Chinese Ministry of Commerce officials said that it would only possible to put a figure on it once the contracts were actually signed, CD reported.
The delegation's shopping list is expected to feature vehicles and vehicle parts, machinery and electrical products and environmental protection technologies.
Bolstering China-EU Ties
China's trade surplus with Europe has been a focus for tension
The shopping mission, led by Minister of Commerce Chen Deming, is regarded as a move to boost Sino-European trade ties ahead of President Hu Jintao's trip to the G20 summit in London in April.
Analysts also say the minister's delegation is intended to demonstrate China's strong domestic demand and send an anti-protectionist message.
"The Chinese government's organisation of the trade and investment mission to Europe comes as the world economy is facing recession due to the international financial crisis," said Gao Hucheng, a vice commerce minister.
"It shows China's determination to open up its market and push for the revival of the world economy by strengthening cooperation with other countries in the world," he said in a statement on the ministry's website.
China has plenty of reserves to draw on
The shopping trip comes ahead of April's G20 summit
With some $2 trillion worth of foreign exchange reserves, China has no shortage of money to spend.
Xinhua news agency said the delegation would be made up of about 300 officials and business people.
China Daily cited Commerce ministry spokesman Yao Jian as saying that the country's demand for European goods was growing as a result of the roll-out of a four-trillion-yuan economic stimulus package that includes huge infrastructure projects.
"Europe has an obvious edge in providing us with the equipment we need," he said.
"Chen can take a positive message to the world. China, as a major trading power, has no interest in adopting protectionism," Song Hong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences think-tank, told China Daily.
The European Union is China's largest trading partner, its most important source for technology imports and its largest export destination, while China is the EU's second-largest trading partner.
Bilateral trade rose by 19.5 percent to 425.6 billion dollars in 2008, with China holding a trade surplus of 160 billion dollars, according to official Chinese data.
Author: Julie Gregson (afp, ap, CD)
Editor: Nick Amies