China's Xi to pay first visit as president to Europe in March

BRUSSELS (REUTERS) - China's Xi Jinping is expected to make his first trip as president to Europe in March, to meet the country's most important export partners after a year of trade tensions, EU diplomats said.

Mr Xi will participate in a Nuclear Security Summit in The Hague on March 24-25, which US President Barack Obama will also attend to discuss efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism with other world leaders.

One diplomat said Mr Obama and Mr Xi, who became president in March last year, are likely to hold talks on the sidelines of that meeting.

From the Netherlands, Mr Xi will travel to France and Germany before concluding his trip in Brussels on March 29, the diplomats told Reuters. "The Chinese President is expected to come to Brussels on March 29 and meet EU leaders," one said.

Mr Xi's arrival in Brussels would follow an EU-US summit in the Belgian capital which is planned on March 26.

In Brussels, Mr Xi will likely discuss an investment pact between China and the European Union, towards which negotiations began in November.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has said such an accord could be a forerunner to a full free-trade deal, although EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht has cautioned that could be a long way off.

The EU is China's most important trading partner and China is second only to the United States for Europe in terms of trade. But growing Chinese export volumes have raised concerns in the EU, which is struggling to overcome a debt crisis, about the impact on its industries.

Last year saw the biggest such dispute between Brussels and Beijing, over the price of Chinese solar panels sold in the EU.

Despite an agreement to end this row, China is continuing an inquiry into imports of EU wine, which Beijing says is sold at unfairly low prices.

The European Commission has also threatened to open an investigation into possibly unfair pricing by China's Huawei , the world's number two telecoms equipment manufacturer, and ZTE, the world's fifth largest.

Both companies are active in Europe.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.