"China wants to establish an alternative, a new order in which it dominates. The political move is to establish itself as a superpower alternative to the US," says Lawrence Sáez, a senior lecturer in comparative and international studies at the University of London and chair of the Centre of South Asian Studies.
More than a business exchange
Mr. Sáez says China's involvement in Europe could first lead to bringing down trade barriers. In Spain, for example, during Li's visit China's biggest oil refiner formalized a $7.1 billion stake purchase in the Brazilian operations of Spain's largest energy company, Repsol, which had for years rejected offers from Chinese and Russian companies.
While China's promises of billions of dollars in business investment will be years in the making, already scores of middle- and upper-class Chinese students and entrepreneurs are coming to Europe in anticipation of a greater economic partnership between China and Europe.
Cultural exchanges are increasing, too. Last October, Italian author Umberto Eco and Chinese researcher Qui Xigui chaired the first annual EU-China High Level Cultural Forum in Brussels. This year, the forum will be organized in China and focus on youth and greater cultural cooperation.