Xi Jinping will pay in March his first visit as China's president to Brussels, as part of a European tour which will partially coincide with US President Barack Obama's stay in Europe.
Xi is expected to meet EU leaders on 29 March, as it emerges from an internal calendar of EU meetings. It would be the first time Xi comes to Europe since his appointment as Chinese president. He came already in 2009 when he was China's vice-president.
"He will meet the three European leaders in Brussels," confirmed a Chinese source.
Xi's meeting with EU leaders outside the framework of the annual EU-China summits, also represents an unconventional move. Moreover, usually the Chinese prime minister participates in these bilateral summits, not the president.
Topics to discuss at the top level are certainly not lacking.
The EU and China announced in November the beginning of talks for an investment pact, which is expected to favour access of Chinese firms to Europe, and of European companies to the growing Chinese market.
The deal would increase the interdependence of the two blocs, potentially reducing the risk of new trade disputes. Indeed, by increasing investment in each other's territory, the controversial issues of dumping or worker rights may be circumvented.
Leaders are also likely to discuss the current bilateral pending issues, starting with a wine row involving French and Spanish exports to China.
The situation of the telecoms equipment giants Huawei and ZTE is also expected to be addressed in the EU-China meeting, as the two Chinese companies face the risk of high duties on their products.
Xi and Obama
Xi's European tour is likely to start with the participation to the Nuclear Security Summit on 24 and 25 March in the Hague, Netherlands, where world leaders will discuss how to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the risks of nuclear terrorism.
Barack Obama is also expected to participate in this summit. He will then go to Brussels for an EU-US summit on 26 March, while Xi will continue his European trip visiting Germany and France.
Xi's last stop should then be in Belgium where he is expected to meet EU leaders on 29 March.
The beginning of talks for an EU-China investment treaty represented an important and positive change of approach to bilateral relations, after the two countries became recently embroiled in a number of trade spats.
Earlier in 2013, the EU accused China of dumping solar panels on the European market and illegal subsidies. It also threatened actions against Chinese telecoms equipments giants Huawei and ZTE. These moves were followed by a tit-for-tat accusation from China that the EU had dumped wine on the Chinese market.
The solar panel dispute is now over, but the other inquiries remain open.
EU relations with China were established in 1975 and are governed by the 1985 EU-China Trade and Cooperation Agreement and seven other legally binding agreements.
Besides the leaders’ annual meeting, the main three pillars are the high-level economic and trade dialogue (launched 2007), the strategic dialogue (2010) and the high-level people-to-people dialogue (2012).
Rising trade and financial flows between the EU and China in the last decade have considerably heightened their economic interdependence. The EU remains China's biggest trading partner while China is the EU's second largest trading partner.
- 26 March 2014: EU-US Summit, Obama in Brussels
- 29 March 2014: Chinese President XI Jinping to visit Brussels