Brussels: European and Asian leaders begin three days of talks on Monday centred on trade, IMF reform and climate change but under the cloud of a territorial spat between Japan and China.
Leaders will meet at the royal palace in Brussels for the 48-member Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) for two days, followed by separate European Union summits with South Korea and China on Wednesday.
The Japan-China row could steal the show, however, as observers watch whether Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan meet face-to-face to ease tensions over a maritime incident near disputed islands.
The diplomatic standoff was sparked by Japan`s arrest on September 08 of a Chinese trawler captain near the islands in the East China Sea.
Japan has released the captain, but tensions remain with Beijing freezing high-level talks.
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara sought on Sunday to put a lid on anti-Beijing sentiment in Japan, insisting the two countries were "good neighbours”.
For the EU, the summits are a chance for the 27-nation bloc to tighten its links with Asia and reassert itself as a major world player, analysts say.
"The EU must use the meeting to give a signal that it is not becoming `irrelevant` on the global stage as some in Asia claim," said Shada Islam, senior programme executive at the European Policy Centre think tank.
The 27-nation EU will sign a major free trade deal with South Korea, hoping it will be the first in a series of similar pacts with Asian countries.
But the meeting with China could prove more contentious following European and US charges that Beijing deliberately keeps its yuan currency undervalued to gain a trade advantage.
The EU is also expected to raise concerns about human rights in China.
In Athens before heading to Brussels, Wen told Greek lawmakers he was committed to improving EU-China relations.
"I am convinced that a strong Europe is irreplaceable," he said. "China wants to promote and strengthen strategic links with the European Union."
Wen, whose country holds the world`s biggest foreign exchange reserves, pledged to support the euro and facilitate investments in China, but he also urged Europeans to "limit protectionism”.
Economic issues will likely dominate the meeting of ASEM nations, which represent 60 percent of the world population and global trade.
ASEM, which meets every two years, groups the EU, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan and Mongolia, and new members Australia, New Zealand and Russia.
Reform of the IMF will likely feature high on the agenda after the EU signalled on Friday its willingness to cede some power at the international lender to emerging powers, which say Europe is over-represented.
On climate change, ASEM leaders will share the goal "of reaching urgently a fair, effective and comprehensive legally binding outcome”, according to a draft statement.
"Deep cuts in global emissions are required" to ensure the increase in global temperature remains below two degrees Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit), it says.
The ASEM summit coincides with a final preparatory meeting in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin for UN climate talks opening in November in Cancun, Mexico.
Hopes are low that any binding deals on cutting greenhouse gas emissions can be reached in Cancun amid lingering bitterness following the Copenhagen summit in December which failed to secure emissions-reduction commitments.