SOFIA — Premier Li Keqiang on July 8 wrapped up his successful trip to Bulgaria with a clear message that China will further consolidate relations with its European partners and safeguard the multilateral trade regime.
During his stay in Sofia, Premier Li paid an official visit to Bulgaria, attended the seventh leaders’ meeting of China and 16 Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs), and held bilateral meetings with CEEC leaders.
The Premier and his CEEC counterparts agreed to further boost bilateral and 16+1 cooperation and, in face of gathering protectionist clouds, reiterated their shared commitment to building an open world economy and making economic globalization more dynamic, inclusive and sustainable.
SAFEGUARD FREE TRADE
Throughout his meetings, Premier Li repeatedly underlined China’s resolve to preserve free trade and the multilateral trade regime, which serve as important drivers of world economic growth.
While addressing the issues of safeguarding multilateralism and free trade, opposing protectionism and containing trade disputes, he said no one will win by fighting a trade war.
China never initiates trade disputes, let alone provoking a trade war, but if the other side provokes a trade war by imposing additional tariffs, China will definitely take countermeasures, he added.
That is to defend not only China’s development interests but also the rules of the World Trade Organization, he said.
Talking about cooperation between China and the CEECs, he said it is based on openness, consultation on an equal footing, mutual benefit and win-win outcomes.
Participants in the China-CEEC summit said they are committed to promoting mutually beneficial cooperation, building an open world economy, and making economic globalization more dynamic, inclusive and sustainable.
Commenting on Premier Li’s call to oppose protectionism, Latchezar Dinev, chairman of the Bulgaria-China Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said countries should remember the lesson from the Great Depression in the 1930s, which arose from protectionist tariffs.
He stressed that trade relations between countries take years to build, but only months to break. “If their relations or supply chains are broken, to recover that is very difficult,” he said.
BOOST CHINA-EUROPE TIES
After six years of development, the 16+1 cooperation mechanism has evolved into a practical and beneficial cross-regional cooperation platform with fast-growing economic and trade links among its participants.
During the period, the trade volume between China and the CEECs grew to almost $70 billion from $40 billion, with an average annual growth of 6.5 percent. The two sides have also seen steady growth of two-way investment.
Addressing the eighth China-CEEC business forum, Premier Li said 16+1 cooperation is an important part of and useful complement to China-EU cooperation, and it not only facilitates the development of the two sides, but also helps narrow the gaps within the EU and advance European integration.
“A united, stable and prosperous EU and a strong euro conform to the fundamental interests of China,” Premier Li said.
He also reaffirmed China’s commitment to further opening-up and market reform, which will provide more opportunities for China-Europe cooperation.
Days before Premier Li’s ongoing overseas trip, Beijing started to further lower tariffs and shorten the negative list on foreign investment. The latest moves will create new market opportunities for the CEECs and the EU.
Bulgaria was the first leg of Premier Li’s two-nation European tour, which also includes an official visit to Germany, the EU’s most industrialized and populous country, with the aim of promoting greater openness and innovation cooperation.
CONSOLIDATE 16+1 FOUNDATION
In order to lay a solid foundation for the 16+1 mechanism, the Premier called for further strengthening economic and trade links and cementing public support.
Premier Li and his CEEC counterparts pledged to increase two-way investment and enhance people-to-people exchanges.
At a joint news conference with Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov on July 6, Premier Li said China is looking forward to increasing its investment by taking part in Bulgaria’s major infrastructure projects, such as a railway linking the country to the Aegean Sea.
During bilateral meetings with his CEEC counterparts on the sidelines of the summit, he also expressed the hope that China will promote regional interconnectivity within the framework of 16+1 cooperation.
At the news conference on July 6, China and Bulgaria also demonstrated how the two peoples are bonded together.
In the middle of the news conference, Premier Li received from Borissov a Bulgarian national flag, on which the wife of well-known Bulgarian mountaineer Boyan Petrov wrote “His heart and noble spirits will never be frozen.”
Petrov went missing two months ago while climbing Shishapangma Mountain in China’s Tibet autonomous region. Upon hearing the news, the Premier ordered an all-out effort to search and rescue him.
Petrov’s wife expressed her gratitude to the Premier and the Chinese government, and said, “My heart stays in China forever.”
Premier Li expressed his condolences, saying that Petrov showed the bravery of humankind.
China and the CEECs have attached great importance to people-to-people exchanges since the first China-CEEC summit was held in Warsaw in 2012.
Over the past six years, the number of Chinese citizens visiting the CEECs has increased more than fivefold. Now China and the CEECs record more than 1 million tourist trips between them every year.