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EU looks to China to invest in its telecoms sector

[BRUSSELS] The European Union is looking to Chinese companies such as telecom equipment maker ZTE and Bank of China to take part in its 315 billion euros (US$360 billion) investment plan to revitalise the bloc's stagnant economy.

Executives from Chinese and European companies, including Finnish mobile games maker Rovio and China Mobile, met senior European Commission officials this week to explore greater cooperation in the hi-tech and telecoms sectors.

The Commission's investment plan is designed to attract private money to improve infrastructure across the transport, telecoms and digital sectors and so not add to already high levels of public debt.

The two sides agreed to encourage Chinese investments in European digital infrastructure through joint ventures and public-private partnerships, ChinaEU, the business association that organised the meeting, said in a statement on Thursday.

Representatives from Bank of China, China's largest telecom carrier China Mobile and Bank of America Merrill Lynch were also present, according to people at the meeting.

The company executives met separately with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, Jyrki Katainen, who is responsible for employment and growth, and Andrus Ansip, tasked with overseeing the creation of a digital single market.

The new European Commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker in November launched an ambitious plan to turn 21 billion euros in existing EU and European Investment Bank funds into 315 billion euros in project funding.

The participants agreed to cooperate ahead of the next EU-China summit in June in the development of the next generation of mobile technology, so-called 5G, which would enable a one-hour video to be downloaded in six seconds.

Once a leader in GSM technology - the original standard for mobile networks - in the 1990s, Europe has fallen behind the United States, Japan and South Korea in the roll-out of the current standard of fast mobile networks, known as 4G.

"China and the EU should leverage their technological and market strengths collaboratively, and thus establish a major strategic presence in the future 5G mobile markets globally," ChinaEU said.

The Commission has already teamed up with South Korea - which has one of the fastest mobile broadband networks in the world - to jointly research 5G and set a timetable for its roll-out.

A similar partnership between China and the EU in the development of 5G standards could be envisaged, said one of the participants of the meeting.