Chinese premier praises EU, says free trade must be upheld

Bulgaria China has an Interest in Building the Belene NPP a Highway and a Railway Line to the Aegean Sea

Mr Li's attendance at the seventh "16+1" summit in Sofia, Bulgaria's capital, coincided with the firing of the first salvos in what risks becoming a protracted global trade war, as Washington and Beijing slapped tariffs on US$34 billion (S$46 billion) worth of each other's goods.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang meets with Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama in Sofia, Bulgaria, July 6, 2018.

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.

China is inviting worldwide banks to finance a project for the construction of a high-speed railway linking Bulgaria's Black Sea coast to Greece's Aegean ports, Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang said on Friday.

Beijing earlier accused Washington of triggering the "largest-scale trade war". "On the contrary, we aim to help eastern Europe and the Balkans which are lagging behind to catch up", Borissov said.

China-CEEC cooperation has played a constructive role in enhancing China-CEEC ties and promoting the process of European integration, said Li.

China and the 16 countries at the summit "need to carefully study how our cooperation can fit in with the European Union laws and regulations", Li said.

Although the US trade war with China wasn't initially on the agenda, it was an unavoidable topic for the host country and its Chinese visitor.

"Opening up has been a key driver of China's reform agenda so we will continue to open wider to the world, including widening market access for foreign investors", he 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.

More than 1,000 business people from China and central and eastern Europe attended an economic forum alongside the summit, seeking deals in trade, technology, infrastructure, agriculture and tourism.

Bulgaria hopes the summit will help secure funds to build new infrastructure, mainly in the Balkans, which still lags richer western European Union states.

In addition, China is interested in the use of the existing nuclear equipment for peaceful purposes, Keqiang said in an obvious reference to the equipment manufactured by Russia's Atomstroyexport for Bulgaria's Belene nuclear power plant - an unfinished project which Bulgaria's government is set to revive.

China put new tariff cuts into effect and shortened its negative list on foreign investments last week, a move that was part of China's efforts to further open up its economy, as the country marks the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening-up drive.

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