Students from an Italian International School admire picture books created by Chinese children on the Bologna International Children's Book Fair in Bologna, Italy, March 28, 2018. (Xinhua/Jin Yu)
Chinese President Xi Jinping will pay state visits to Italy, Monaco and France from March 21 to 26, to consolidate time-honored friendship, enhance practical cooperation and champion multilateralism.
The Europe tour, Xi's first overseas trip this year, is expected to inject fresh impetus to the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership and create new opportunities to boost global stability and prosperity.
The China-Italy friendship dates back to over 2,000 years ago. In the Middle Ages, famous explorer Marco Polo traveled to the East via the ancient Silk Road and promoted understanding between China and Europe.
In recent years, bilateral relations have gained inspiring momentum, boosted by such efforts as the China-Italy Cooperation Action Plan for 2017-2020, the Italy-China Chamber of Commerce and the China-Italy Science, Technology and Innovation Week program.
The two countries have also witnessed frequent high-level exchanges. Italian President Sergio Mattarella paid a state visit to China in February 2017, followed by then Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni three months later, who attended the first Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing.
As China and Italy celebrate the 15th anniversary of their comprehensive strategic partnership this year and the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic relations next year, Xi's upcoming visit has attracted close attention from across Italian society.
During his visit to Italy, Xi will hold talks with President Mattarella and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, meet with presidents of the Senate of the Republic and the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and the two sides will exchange in-depth views on China-Italy, China-EU relations as well as international and regional issues of mutual interest. President Xi and Prime Minister Conte will also jointly witness the signing of various intergovernmental cooperation documents and commercial agreements.
Monaco is the second stop of Xi's upcoming overseas journey. The Mediterranean country is full of unique charm thanks to its Middle Ages architecture, energetic service industries, world-renowned Formula One World Championship races and the Monte-Carlo International Circus Festival.
Prince Albert II, head of state of the principality, has visited China ten times. As a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), he has always been an active supporter of China's Olympic cause.
During an interview with Xinhua, the Prince said Xi's visit demonstrates China's long-standing view to maintain the relations with other countries, whether they are small or big.
Xi will hold talks with Prince Albert II during his visit to Monaco and they will exchange views on issues such as politics, economy, humanities and environmental protection, and jointly open up a new era of China-Monaco relations.
If China and Monaco have set a model of friendship and common development between countries of different sizes, China and France have then provided the world with a model of friendship featuring mutual respect and win-win cooperation between major countries.
France is the first major country in the West to forge a comprehensive strategic partnership with China. Xi's visit this time coincides with the 55th anniversary of China-France diplomatic relations and the 15th anniversary of the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership.
During his visit to France, Xi will hold talks with President Emmanuel Macron, meet with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, Speaker of the Senate and President of the National Assembly.
The leaders of the two countries will exchange in-depth views on the China-France relations, China-EU relations, and international and regional issues of common interest, and witness the signing of a series of cooperation agreements.
"It's the 55th anniversary of our relations," former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told Xinhua in a recent interview. "There are a lot of events that will make this a productive year."
ACHIEVING MUTUAL BENEFIT
During the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in the Chinese mega city of Shanghai last year, sizzling beef steaks from France were greatly welcomed by visitors.
Actually, a growing number of European companies are enjoying the opportunities and benefits created by China's further opening up.
Trade between China and Italy reached a record high of 54.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2018, and the volume between China and France surpassed 60 billion dollars.
"Despite mounting uncertainties in global trade, trade between China and Europe continues to enjoy good momentum. It shows that cooperation between China and Europe has solid footing and great potential," said Cui Hongjian, head of the Department for European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), a Chinese think tank.
In the meantime, the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been increasingly embraced by European countries, which have already benefited from the opportunities the initiative offers.
The French Senate issued an assessment report in June last year on the BRI, calling on the country to play an active role in the construction of the Belt and Road. In October, the Italian Economy and Finance Ministry launched a task force on China, aiming to promote economic and trade cooperation with the Asian country within the BRI framework.
Conte said he is willing to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation scheduled for April in Beijing, adding that he sees in the BRI an opportunity for Italy and for Europe.
SAFEGUARDING INTERNATIONAL ORDER
This year marks the sixth consecutive year during which Xi visits Europe. It shows that China regards the continent as an important partner and a foreign-policy priority. With strategic dialogue and dynamic cooperation, the two sides are steadily promoting China-EU partnerships for peace, growth, reform and civilization.
Italy and France are both members of the Group of Seven, and key EU states, while Monaco is one of most China-friendly European countries, said Ruan Zongze, executive vice president of the CIIS, adding that Xi's three-country Europe visit will boost the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership in all aspects.
The world is undergoing major changes unseen in a century. China and Europe share common interests in supporting multilateralism and rejecting unilateralism and protectionism. At the 20th China-EU leaders' meeting in July, Chinese and European leaders reiterated their support for multilateralism and the rules-based international order with the United Nations at its core.
As permanent members of the UN Security Council, China and France are leading the world in coping with climate change challenge. Both are fully committed to the implementation of the 2015 Paris climate accord. They have also carried out the China-France Year of the Environment program.
France and China agree with each other in terms of world view, and are obliged to uphold the banner of multilateralism, said Raffarin.
France and China should work on a solution to global governance and dispute settlement to make cooperation a key word for the 21st century, Raffarin said.
(Xinhua reporters Ying Qiang, Liang Nini in Paris also contributed to the story.)