On the day that the trade war between China and the US stepped in to high gear with the introduction of wide-reaching tariffs on goods, Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang was keen to emphasise that the upcoming “16+1” meeting between China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries was not meant to cause divisions within the EU.
“China wants a prospering Europe and a strong euro. ’16+1′ is not a political initiative. 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.
“China does not wish for a trade war with anyone, but will defend free trade rules if necessary,” he said, as quoted by a Bulgarian government statement.
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.
Borissov, who will host the seventh “16+1” summit in Sofia on July 6-7, echoed the sentiment, saying that the initiative was “not in opposition to anyone in Europe.”
“I want this message to be very clear from Sofia to all my colleagues in Europe. We seek not the division of EU, but the opposite – dragging as much as possible the lagging Balkans to the income levels that we all want to have. That is the goal of these multi-lateral and bilateral meetings,” Borissov said.
After their meeting, the two prime ministers attended the signing ceremonies for 10 bilateral agreements between China and Bulgaria, ranging from energy and infrastructure to tourism and cultural exchanges.
One major project of interest discussed by Borissov and Keqiang was the planned Belene nuclear power plant, which Bulgaria’s government is looking to resurrect. Officials from state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) and the Bulgarian government have held several meetings over the past year to discuss the project.
“With the contacts that China has with EU 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.
This will be the first major event in the Bulgarian capital city after the close on June 30 of the country’s tenure of the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union.
The 16+1 framework is an initiative by China aimed at intensifying and expanding co-operation with 11 EU member states and five Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia and Macedonia) in the fields of investments, transport, finance, science, education, and culture.