China signs deal to increase investments in Europe

China and Belgium set up an investment fund to pump more Chinese money into leading European firms Wednesday during a visit by premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang.

The fund, with capital of 17 million euros, will "invest along with Chinese companies in European groups," said a statement by China Investment Corporation (CIC), the country's sovereign fund, Belgium's federal investment and participation group (SFPI/FPIM) and A Capital, the a fund manager specialising in investments between China and Europe.

"SFPI's 8.5 million euros will be destined for projects in Belgium, the remainder possibly invested elsewhere in Europe," a Belgian government source told AFP.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said Tuesday day that "we try to be the gateway to Europe for Chinese investors."

Belgium and China also signed a farm deal during talks between Li, expected to be named Chinese premier next year, and Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo.

Di Rupo brought up the isue of human rights during the talks, the premier's spokesman Guillaume De Walque told AFP.

He communicated his "concerns on the matter. He also said there was a lot of emotion in Europe about this subject," De Walque added.

Though Li will also be meeting European Union leaders on Thursday, no press conference has been organised during his three-day visit.

Lou Jiwei, who heads the CIC, said Beijing believed the fund "will ensure for us a larger access to the best European companies. This agreement is part of CIC strategy which is to seek long-term investment opportunities in European firms."

Fund manager A Capital co-invests with Chinese public and private investors in firms with a turnover of over 100 million euros who are leaders in their field. Favoured sectors are technology, brands, distribution and the environment.

On Thursday, Li will sign off on three joint statements -- on energy security, electricity market reform and a hands-on "sustainable urbanisation" scheme reflecting "the widening of the agenda" in EU-China relations, as one EU diplomat put it.

Agreed at a February EU-China summit, it aims to bring the two sides together to build energy-efficient 'green cities' as China addresses a historically unprecedented transformation from a rural nation to a land of mega-cities.

Highlighting the power focus, energy ministers from the 27-nation EU will gather in Brussels on Thursday to meet members of China's National Energy Commission to discuss electricity markets.

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