On the second stage of his European tour, Wen Jiabao is expected to continue his campaign to end the 15-year EU weapons ban. During his visit to Brussels the Chinese premier will also focus on EU-China trade issues.
Wen Jiabao on tour in Europe.
Wen Jiabao had a clear objective when he set out for the EU headquarters on Wednesday. With a joint declaration boosting trade ties and political links between Germany and China already in his pocket after his visit to Berlin, the Chinese premier is aiming for a larger pledge of partnership from the European Union.
Top on his list of goals is the removal of a weapons embargo imposed by the EU in 1989 after the Tiananmen Square massacre. Last December EU leaders had agreed to review the ban after pressure was applied by France and Germany, who claim the sanctions had outlived their usefulness. Both countries are eager to sell sophisticated weapons to China's large and big-spending military, and analysts say China is keen to gain access to cutting-edge European technology.
But a number of smaller EU countries, headed by the Netherlands and Scandinavian members, argue that Beijing needs to do more to safeguard human rights. The United States has also lobbied Brussels hard against removing the embargo.
On Monday, however, Wen's campaign received new impetus from German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder who spoke out in favor of removing the restrictions and pledged to push Brussels to drop the ban. But the positive words from Berlin are not enough to convince Brussels to change its "wait and see" position.
The EU maintains the time is not yet right to resume weapons sales to China. On Wednesday, the subject was not even brought up during the premier's meeting with the EU's foreign policy representative Javier Solana, a spokesman said.
Wen faces trade complaints
Instead of focusing on the weapons embargo as Wen had hoped, the EU greeted the arrival of China's leader with a list of trade complaints ranging from accusations of product piracy to rules blocking European companies from winning construction contracts for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Endemic counterfeiting of everything from computer software to music, movies and designer fashion have cost Western companies some $16 billion in sales each year, according to estimates from international trade groups. The United States and Europe have appealed to China to adhere to the rules of the World Trade Organization and intervene to stop the trade violations.
Speaking to a business conference in Berlin on Tuesday, Wen said foreign companies could expect to see stronger enforcement of new anti-piracy regulations and the prosecution of small-scale counterfeiters. On Thursday at an EU-China business conference he plans to initial a cooperation agreement that EU officials have called a "crucial step forward" in putting a stop to the infringement of intellectual property rights. The deal will clear the way for cooperation between customs offices.
Other disputes in the way of boosting EU-China trade involve new Chinese rules and qualifications that make it difficult for European construction companies to bid on large building contracts, and limits on coke exports for European steel producers.
Forging strategic partnerships
For both parties, much is at stake if the trade disputes are allowed to get out of hand. Last year China overtook Japan to become the EU's second-largest trading partner after the United States, while the EU is China's third largest. Bilateral trade grew 13.5 percent to €134.8 billion in 2003.
"China is becoming more and more a global player and, with the new enlargement, the EU's influence is assuming new dimensions at home and abroad," Commission President Romano Prodi said ahead of his talks with Wen on Thursday.
"In this context, I believe the EU and China have an ever-growing interest in working together as strategic partners to promote sustainable development, peace and stability worldwide and in reinforcing their cooperation across the board."
Prodi and Wen are also set to discuss human rights, North Korea, Myanmar and Iraq, according to the European Commission. On Thursday Wen departs for Rome, and is scheduled to visit Britain and Ireland before heading back to China.