China says eastern European summits are good for EU

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva (not pictured) attend a news conference at Necessidades Palace in Lisbon, Portugal May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

BEIJING (Reuters) - Annual summits between China and central and eastern European countries are beneficial to the European Union as a whole, the Chinese government’s told Bulgaria’s foreign minister, brushing off concern that Beijing is seeking to divide the continent.

China has courted central and eastern European states, including with annual summits, which has unnerved Western European capitals who fear China wants to sow divisions in the bloc.

Reuters reported in March that China was considering paring back the summits, though China has said preparatory talks for this year’s summit in Bulgaria are continuing.

Meeting Bulgaria’s deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Ekaterina Zaharieva in Argentina, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said the “16+1” platform had had a positive effect on economic development, referring to China’s cooperation mechanism with those countries.

“The 16+1 cooperation and China-EU cooperation are not mutually exclusive,” China’s Foreign Ministry cited Wang as telling Zaharieva on Tuesday. “Objectively, it helps with the European integration process.”

China believes that this year’s summit in Bulgaria will achieve new results and further promote mutually beneficial cooperation between China and central and eastern Europe, Wang added, according to the statement issued on Wednesday.

Zaharieva told Wang that Bulgaria will “enthusiastically welcome” Chinese leaders to attend the summit and that they are busy making preparations for it, according to China’s foreign ministry.

Cooperation between China and central and eastern Europe does not affect China’s broader cooperation with the EU, she added.

Bulgaria also supports China’s Belt and Road initiative and wants to promote more infrastructure projects under its framework, Zaharieva said, referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s grand plan to build a new Silk Road.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry