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China eyes business ties with Eastern Europe

Reuters SOFIA (Reuters) — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will offer the leaders of central and eastern Europe on Saturday expanded business ties at a summit in Sofia while seeking to reassure the EU that Beijing is not trying to divide the continent.

Li, whose attendance at the seventh such “16+1” summit coincides with an escalating trade war between China and the United States, will also try to dispel growing doubts among some participants about the value of the annual meetings.

China has promised billions for development projects in the region as part of its Belt and Road strategy to carve out new export markets, but these deals are coming under greater scrutiny.

Li, whose country needs the European Union’s support in its trade battles with U.S. President Donald Trump, has been careful to stress China’s support for European integration and rules in trade and procurement.

“The 16+1 cooperation is by no means a geo-political platform. Some may say such cooperation may separate the EU, but this is not true,” Li told a joint news conference on Friday with the summit host, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.

“We hope that through our cooperation we will improve the development of all countries involved and help them better integrate into the European integration’s process,” said Li, who will travel on to Germany from Bulgaria after the summit.

Analysts said Li would try to avoid issues that might annoy western European capitals, including the European Commission in Brussels that upholds the common rules that underpin the EU’s single market.

“I think that Premier Li Keqiang will adopt a low profile on issues that might infringe on community affairs of the EU this time around,” said Francois Godement, director of Asia and China program at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

More than 250 Chinese companies and 700 business people from central and eastern Europe are expected to attend an economic forum alongside the summit, seeking deals in trade, technology, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism.Speech

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