China Eyes Eastern Europe Investment as US Trade War Sizzles

The Sofia summit comes the day after a tariff spat between China and the US escalated into a full-blown trade war

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang today said free trade and worldwide cooperation must be upheld to avoid slowing down the global economy.

"It is not true that we will cause division in the EU, because we understand that the European Union is important to global prosperity", Keqiang said after meeting Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov in Sofia on July 6.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday arrived in Bulgaria for an official visit to the country and the seventh meeting of heads of government of China and 16 Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) in Sofia.

The 16+1 meeting of the central and eastern European nations and China is part of China's $900 billion "New Silk Road" plan to boost its influence in Europe through investments and closer economic links.

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

Chinese investment in Germany equals only one tenth of German investment in China, less than 0.3 percent of total foreign investment in Germany, and is incomparable with German investment in China in terms of quality, he noted.

A consortium can be established with global banks for the construction of the high-speed railway, while other formats of cooperation are also acceptable, Keqiang said.

Li hurried to downplay Brussels' concerns on Friday.


"It is two-way traffic", Li said though an interpreter. "Some may say such cooperation may separate the European Union, but this is not true", Li told a joint news conference on Friday with the summit host, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

However, small markets in central and eastern Europe seem an unlikely target for China's efforts to compensate for lost revenues.

Mindful of the need to keep ties with the EU on an even keel, Mr Li had been careful to stress China's support for European integration and rules in trade and procurement.

Analysts have said Li, who will travel to Germany on Sunday ahead of a wider China-EU summit in Beijing, would avoid any issues that might irk western EU governments.

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

In a world of growing uncertainties, China and Europe see their interests aligned. "From now on, we begin carrying out transparent procedures on hybrid projects with the World Bank and EBRD, so that Europe can be calm", Borisov said.

In September 2017, Bulgaria signed a memorandum of understanding with Greece on the development of a high-speed railway corridor linking major Greek Aegean ports with Bulgarian ports on the Danube river and the Black Sea coast.

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