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China pushes for wider ties with east Europe

09 July 2018

The Sofia summit comes the day after a tariff spat between China and the USA escalated into a full-blown trade war as 25-per cent U.S. duties came into force Friday on $34 billion of Chinese goods.

China remains open for trade with foreign partners and can only benefit from an economically strong Europe, Premier Li Keqiang said, as he pressed for expanded ties with the continent's eastern wing while waging a tariff war with Washington.

China has promised billions of dollars for development projects in central and eastern Europe as part of its Belt and Road strategy to carve out new export markets.

In particular, China was open to co-operation in the nuclear energy and agriculture sectors and was prepared to give investors better access to its market, which would open new opportunities for Bulgaria, the statement said. USA duties on a range of Chinese imported goods took effect on Friday and were immediately countered by measures from China.

Free trade and worldwide cooperation must be upheld to avoid slowing down the global economy, the Chinese premier told peers from central and eastern Europe Saturday.

"Such a project should be carried out in a transparent way and I invite third parties to participate, for example, worldwide organisations and banks", Keqiang said speaking through an interpreter during a news conference after a meeting with Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov broadcast by Bulgarian TV channel Kanal 3.

Li downplayed such concerns, calling views that China is trying create rifts in Europe by pursuing deals with eastern European countries a "misunderstanding".

"With the contacts that China has with European Union member states, we could accomplish a good project for Belene and [Keqiang] has pledged to get involved personally to help us reach a successful conclusion", Borissov said.

Li said China would sponsor a "global partnership cooperation center" to study European Union trade rules.

Mindful of the need to keep relations with the EU on an even keel as his trade battles with U.S. President Donald Trump intensify, Li has been careful to stress China's support for European integration and rules in trade and procurement. "Unity between China and Europe and cooperation between us can ensure peace and stability in the whole world".

China and some of the 16 countries at the summit signed memorandums and agreements on economic cooperation and other issues.

"If Europe is weakened, it will only be bad news for China, not the other way around", Li said.

At the same time, the premier said it was "very important" for Chinese companies to set up factories in the region, noting that Chinese products were popular with consumers.

China pushes for wider ties with east Europe