The Chinese Prime Minister is looking to expand trade ties with Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries amid a growing trade row with the United States.
At a summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang expressed hope for cooperation between China and Eastern EU countries, saying that this cooperation is by no means a geopolitical platform.
“The 16+1 cooperation is by no means a geopolitical platform. Some say such cooperation may separate the EU, but this is not true,” Li told a joint press conference on Friday with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov.
The 16 countries that are participating in the summit include EU members Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, as well as non-EU states Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.
The 16+1 summit brings China and these countries together.
“We hope that through our cooperation, we will improve the development of all countries involved and help them better integrate into the European integration process,” Li added.
The alleged attempt has been criticized by some Western critics who have viewed this attempt by China to improve ties as a way of dividing the Western and Eastern countries trade and investment relations.
However, at the moment, Chinese investment in the CEE region accounts for less than 10 percent of total Chinese money inflows into Europe.
China has been positioning itself as a country that is open for trade. Li said on Saturday that Beijing will stay on the path of economic reform and would be more flexible about permitting foreign products to enter its domestic market.
“For foreign products which meet Chinese consumer needs, we will open the door wider to them to come into the Chinese market,” he told the 16+1 summit participants.
“We will lower overall import tariffs to the Chinese market,” he added.
The meeting took place amid two separate rows between China and the US, as well as between the EU and Washington over tariffs. In particular, China has introduced a 25-percent tariff on $34 billion worth of US goods in response to Washington’s subjecting $34 billion of Chinese imports to additional taxation.
In turn, the EU protested the US president’s decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum duties.
When the tariffs were introduced back in May, the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, called the tariffs “totally unacceptable” and pledged to introduce counterbalancing measures in the coming hours, noting that “this is a bad day for world trade.”
European Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmstrom also pointed out that the bloc would take any necessary steps to protect the EU market from trade diversion, adding that the bloc would now trigger a dispute settlement case at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Washington’s imports tariffs could lead to an “escalation spiral” in global trade.
In turn, US Trade Secretary Wilbur Ross responded to the criticism of EU leaders by saying that the EU’s retaliation for the introduction of metal tariffs was unlikely to have much impact on the US economy.