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Europe makes room for Chinese investment, but not without concern

China has signed a number of trade deals throughout Europe that could boost struggling economies, but some Europeans have misgivings about the possibility of a financial lifeline from China.

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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.

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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.

Chengcheng Li, originally from an impoverished mountainous region near Tibet, came to Spain almost five years ago from the outskirts of Beijing as part of a student exchange program. An only child of a chemistry professor and gynecologist, she just wanted "to leave the mountains, but I never dreamed Europe would be my destiny." She soon discovered what her place should be in a new world increasingly influenced by China's spreading wings.

"I am a bridge, an ambassador," says Ms. Chengcheng, in her early 20s, pointing to how little China and Europe know about each other. In the northern region of Catalonia, she earned a bachelor's degree and two master's degrees while working as a marketing consultant in a firm exporting high-end Spanish goods to China.

She was in the first batch of Chinese exchange students in Spain, who were made into minor celebrities by Spanish TV. "This is very new," she says. "We are not opening up restaurants and grocery stores, looking to escape poverty. We are getting an education, learning about Europe, networking, and doing business."

She's now enrolled in a part-time business program at IE Business School in Madrid and working toward a master's degree in business administration. "Business is politics and politics is business," she says, switching between fluent Spanish and English.

Europeans doubt Chinese intentions

Many of the Chinese newcomers feel Europeans are overly suspicious of their intentions, says Jiang Shixue, professor and deputy director of the Institute of European Studies, affiliated with the prestigious Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

"Economically, it's for the purpose of gaining profits, diversifying the use of China's foreign exchange reserves, participating more deeply in the international capital market, integrating China more closely with the world economy; diplomatically or politically, it's for the purpose of improving bilateral relations with the EU; and morally, it's for the purpose of helping somebody when he or she is in need of such help," he says about China's rescue of the EU.

"If China stood by just watching the situation in Europe turning for the worse, China would have been criticized for lacking sympathy. Now China offers to help, some people in Europe are suspicious of China's intention. Tell me what China should do," says Mr. Shixue.

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