China's Hu kicks off Europe visit, amid euro crisis
China's President Hu Jintao arrived Sunday in Vienna for a state visit ahead of a crucial G20 meeting in France, amid hopes that Beijing may lend a helping hand to the debt-stricken EU.
Hu's visit to Europe, his second in a year, comes after EU leaders last week appealed to China to invest in the region's debt rescue fund to help it overcome a spiralling debt crisis.
Klaus Regling, the head of the bailout fund -- the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) -- also travelled to Beijing to strike a deal with the world's second-largest economy, reportedly seeking a pledge of $100 billion.
But while Hu welcomed a last-ditch agreement by EU leaders Thursday to tackle the crisis, Beijing has officially remained non-committal about its involvement.
On Friday, Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said the G20 summit, which Hu will attend in the French resort of Cannes on November 3-4, should focus on the sovereign debt crisis in "developed countries" and the growing pressure of global inflation.
Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao however played down hopes of a breakthrough at the G20 meeting, insisting investment in the European bailout fund was not on the agenda.
Before Cannes, Hu and his wife Liu Yongqing are paying a two-day state visit to Austria with business and sight-seeing on the agenda.
The official visit begins Monday, when the couple will be received with military honours at the Imperial Palace by Austrian President Heinz Fischer and his wife Margit.
This will be followed by talks between the two leaders and the signing of bilateral agreements.
A state banquet and meetings with Chancellor Werner Faymann and parliament speaker Barbara Prammer were also planned.
Tuesday will be dedicated to sightseeing, with a visit to the scenic Salzkammergut region, a short lake cruise in St Gilgen, and a classical concert at the former Salzburg home of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Hu's visit to Austria, only the second by a Chinese president after Jiang Zemin in 1999, follows an invitation by Fischer, who travelled to Beijing last year, and comes as Austria and China celebrate 40 years of bilateral relations.
Foreign trade between the two countries amounted to 8.2 billion euros ($11.6 billion) in 2010, with imports up 21 percent and exports growing by 39.7 percent on the year.
China, which is reportedly sending a 160-strong delegation to accompany Hu, is especially keen on Austrian know-how in areas like infrastructure, transportation and environmental technology.
Vienna has meanwhile sent a stream of ministers to Beijing this year for talks and business deals, including Chancellor Faymann and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, who also made a point of meeting political activists such as artist Ai Weiwei.
Sunday evening, the Tibetan community in Austria staged a minor protest near Hu's hotel and more were planned, including in Salzburg, during his stay.
Tight security was in place and parts of the city centre were also to be shut down.
Hu flies on to Cannes from Salzburg early Wednesday.
© 2011 AFP