By Ben Blanchard
BEIJING (Reuters) - Europe aims to improve security and defense cooperation with China, especially in the Middle East and in the fight against human trafficking, the European Union's foreign policy chief said on Tuesday following high-level talks in Beijing.
Federica Mogherini's two-day visit comes as Beijing launches a diplomatic offensive to move Sino-European relations beyond trade and raise China's international profile, buoyed by its success winning European participation in a new Asian bank.
Trade is still at the core of the relationship, worth 467 billion euros ($519 billion) last year, but China's bid to deepen cooperation on world affairs resonates with the EU as it seeks to forge a more unified foreign policy among its 28 member countries.
Mogherini told reporters during a joint appearance with China's top diplomat, State Councillor Yang Jiechi, that the two discussed "concrete possibilities" of strengthening security and defense ties, pointing to the example of successful anti-piracy cooperation in the Gulf of Aden.
"We also discussed the situation in Iraq and Syria and briefly in Libya, where the European Union and China share common interests and where our joint efforts could make a real difference," Mogherini said.
She said both sides had reiterated that the conflict in Ukraine can only be solved diplomatically with "full respect for Ukraine's sovereignty".
She praised too China's "precious" role in Iran nuclear talks and said China had an "important role" to play in countering human trafficking as it is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.
Mogherini's visit comes ahead of a China-EU summit in Brussels in June, where she said opportunities to work on infrastructure cooperation would also be discussed.
China appears set on reworking existing global governance mechanisms, laying down a challenge to the United States and the institutions that Washington has dominated since World War Two.
Those efforts enjoyed spectacular success recently when the nascent Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) won unexpected backing from European governments who chose, in an ill-coordinated scramble for advantage, to join despite Washington's misgivings.
Still, the EU remains wary of Beijing. It has had an arms embargo on China since the Chinese army bloodily put down pro-democracy protests around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Human rights rankles too, something Mogherini said she would raise during her visit, an issue China sees as irritating interference in its domestic affairs.
Many activists in Europe have called on her to publicly demand the release of government critics, anti-corruption activists, lawyers and journalists.
($1 = 0.8998 euros)
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie)