BRUSSELS, April 25 (UPI) -- The expected heir to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will seek to strengthen energy ties to Europe during an upcoming visit, officials said this week.
Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang will make a stop in Brussels to meet with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso during a five-day state visit beginning April 30, a top Chinese diplomat said Monday.
Li, who is poised to take over from Wen as China's next premier, says there is "great potential" for China and Europe to step up cooperation in energy, especially in advanced technology for conservation and environmental protection, the state news agency Xinhua reported.
Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Song Tao said Li would visit Hungary, Belgium and EU headquarters in Brussels next week. As part of the trip, he will confer with Belgian King Albert II and Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo. While in Hungary, Li is to sign agreements on finance, small business and agricultural technology.
China's need to conserve energy is becoming more acute with its accelerating rate of urbanization. In 1990, 26 percent of Chinese lived in cities, while last year the rate was approaching 52 percent -- some 691 million people.
Song said Li will ask the EU leaders about how advanced energy technologies help Europe handle its own urbanization rate of 72.6 percent. Coping with quickly rising city populations is a chief concern of Beijing's 12th five-year plan and the issue "will define China's economic growth," the diplomat said.
Beijing is also looking to tap Europe for technological expertise in geothermal energy. One of the motivations behind Wen's visit to Iceland last week was to promote bilateral cooperation in the field.
China, which has abundant geothermal resources, has sent a "considerable" number of technicians to Iceland for training on how to tap the supplies and is looking to gain more expertise in geothermal utilization, Wen said.
The current premier is expected to cede to Li as China's No. 2 leader in October. Xi Xiping is seen as successor to President Hu Jintao, who occupies the most powerful political position in China.
Under that scenario, Li would become the most important figure for interactions with Europe and EU leaders see his early visit as a sign of Beijing's intention to strengthen ties with Europe despite the eurozone crisis, the Brussels daily Europolitics reported.
"The eurozone crisis is a negative story, but it has also demonstrated to the Chinese their economic dependence on the EU market," an unnamed EU official told the newspaper. "In some way, the crisis has made the EU more relevant than ever."
Because the EU is China's largest trading partner, Beijing "has a direct interest" in seeing the eurozone overcome its debt crisis and bounce back, the official said.
Li has already visited Britain, Germany and Spain this year.