A high-level Chinese delegation headed by Premier Zhu Rongji is scheduled to discuss trade, human rights, and the environment with EU leaders Wednesday and Thursday in Brussels. But the Chinese are also seeking to gain support among EU members against U.S. plans to build a missile-defense system that Beijing says is aimed at China.
The fourth annual EU-China summit comes as China is getting ready to join the World Trade Organization at the group's summit in Qatar two months from now.
As far as the Europeans are concerned, trade is the top item on the agenda. The European Union has a $36 billion trade deficit with China, and officially blames it on Chinese restrictions on European goods and services.
Even though the European Union considers Chinese accession to the WTO a done deal, Brussels wants Beijing to reaffirm the commitments to open its markets it made in seeking WTO membership.
The Europeans are also determined to bring up human rights, a subject China always feels uncomfortable with at meetings with western countries. EU officials say they will strongly urge China to give up the death penalty and will address Chinese reservations about the right of workers to join or form trade unions of their choice. EU diplomats say privately that they do not expect much progress in this area.
Another subject the Europeans will bring up is Chinese support for the Kyoto Protocol, the global warming treaty that was rejected by the United States. As a developing country, China is not required to meet emissions reduction targets. But the European Union hopes to gain Beijing's diplomatic backing for the treaty, which Brussels sees as the only roadmap leading to an actual reduction of global warming in the years ahead.
Western diplomats in Beijing say Premier Zhu and his delegation have their own wish list as they prepare to meet with the Europeans. They say that the Chinese agenda is topped by a desire to exploit EU reservations about the U.S. missile-defense plan.
The Europeans have told Washington that, in order to gain their support for the plan, it should strike a deal with Russia. Moscow has been less vocal in its opposition to the U.S. plan in recent days, and these diplomats say China is alarmed that Moscow is softening its position. The diplomats say China feels its worries about the system must be taken into consideration in any U.S.-Russia deal on the issue and that Beijing is looking for European understanding of its position.
Although the United States says its planned missile shield is aimed at such unpredictable nations as North Korea and Iraq, China suspects the plan is really designed to neutralize its limited offensive capability.
The Beijing-based diplomats say that, after leaving Brussels, Premier Zhu will head for Moscow and that the missile defense issue will be the leading item on his agenda there.