BRUSSELS - China and the European Union (EU) begin week-long talks on Monday to coordinate their stance concerning bilateral and international issues ahead of a string of upcoming global summits. But an official often referred to as Europe's foreign minister who will be leading the EU team in the talks predicted that the bilateral relationship would continue to experience "difficult moments".
Catherine Ashton, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, flew to China on Sunday to head a strategic dialogue on a rich tapestry of interwoven issues and interests including trade, finance, security and the environment. It will be the first high-level strategic dialogue with China she has headed since taking office in Dec 2009.
This visit comes prior to a UN Summit on development in Sept, the eighth Asia-Europe Meeting and China-Europe Summit in Oct, a G20 Summit in Nov and a UN climate change conference in Cancun at the end of this year.
"That is why I am in China this week, to closely coordinate our policies and to further our cooperation on important international issues," Ashton told China Daily before her departure.
But she forecast that the Sino-EU relationship might experience more "difficult moments" before it reverts to the so-called honeymoon status seen several years ago.
Also vice-president of the European Commission, Ashton said the Sino-EU relationship needed constant attention if the two sides were to maintain and build confidence and trust, which some Europeans believed had been eroded during the course of the reshaping of the multi-polar global order amid the financial crisis.
"We need to communicate -- to speak frankly -- to exchange ideas and to recognize there have been and will be some difficult moments as our relationship matures," Ashton said.
Her Chinese counterpart, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, is scheduled to host the strategic dialogue in Guizhou, which is Dai's native province. This will give Ashton a chance to grasp a fuller picture of China after her visit to Shanghai Expo in May. Per capita GDP in Shanghai ($11,409 in 2009) is seven times that of Guizhou.
"I am excited about visiting (the provincial capital of) Guiyang," said Ashton. She added that when she was in Shanghai and agreed with Dai to set up a strategic dialogue they decided that the opening session should take place far away from the brightly lit skyscrapers of China's major cities.
She said she wanted to visit China's countryside, where nearly two-thirds of Chinese people live. State Councilor Dai suggested hosting the meeting in his native, poverty-ridden province of Guizhou.
In Beijing, Ashton is scheduled to meet Premier Wen Jiabao and Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi. As the EU and China had established a strategic partnership, the topics would go beyond bilateral relations to cover the main challenges the world faced today. "The big question for all of us is what sort of world the next generation is going to live in," she said.
Ashton hinted that the topics would range from trade, finance, security and climate change. "Part of China's success comes from the open global economy with common rules. If this system is going to continue it needs active efforts by all the important countries - and of course China is now one of the most important ones," she said. "This is true in trade, but it is also true in the area of banking, security and the environment."
Ashton said the EU's political will to lift the arms embargo against China had not changed but it would continue to consider the "legitimate interests" of other partners including the US.
"Both sides have work to do on this," said Ashton, adding that the European Council of December 16-17, 2004 reaffirmed the EU's political will to work toward lifting the arms embargo.
She linked the possibility to China's human rights. "Progress on human rights in China would help," Ashton said.
China said earlier that the EU had considered lifting the embargo, which could help boost exports and improve the bilateral trade balance, but the obstacle comes when it "consults" the US.
Regarding the China-US relationship, Ashton said the EU places great importance to maintaining stability, security and prosperity in the East Asia region and the development of good relations between China and the US is part of this.
She said the EU is pleased to note that under the Obama administration, Sino-US relations have developed a strong "institutional basis."
"I am convinced that both sides want this relationship to prosper."