China: 17+1 Summit Shows We Are for Free Trade

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ZAGREB, April 12, 2019 – The summit of 16 Central and Eastern European countries and China, which opened in Dubrovnik on Friday, clearly shows that the member states advocate multilateralism and free trade, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told a closing press conference in the afternoon, with Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković at his side.

Li had arrived in Croatia on Wednesday from Brussels where China and the European Union adopted a joint statement in which Beijing pledged to open the Chinese economy and ensure fair business conditions, following the EU’s frustration over the lack of reciprocity in trade.

“In Brussels, we achieved a consensus with European leaders and reached a joint statement, and this summit is a further step based on that achievement,” Li said, adding that they will treat each other openly and transparently and work together on market principles to create projects to mutual benefit.

The initiative, which started out as 16+1, will from now on be called 17+1 after Greece joined the forum this morning. Next year it will be hosted by China.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras arrived in Dubrovnik on Friday and joined other leaders at the end of the plenary session and a photo session.

Tsipras thanked Plenković and Li for making it possible for Greece, already a considerable recipient of Chinese investment, to be admitted as a new member. He said that this was a crucial moment for global and regional development, emphasising the need to find a new basis for global and regional cooperation.

The West fears that China’s growing economic influence will increase its political power over certain countries, such as Greece which blocked European criticism of the human rights situation in China in the UN in 2017 shortly after the Asian country took over the largest Greek port of Piraeus.

Tsipras, however, said in Dubrovnik that international cooperation should be based on full respect for EU rules.

Li said at the closing press conference that China abides by European laws, rules and standards when operating in Europe and that it also does so in 17+1 countries that are not members of the EU.

“That shows that we are working together on multilateralism and free trade,” the Chinese premier said, adding that he believes their cooperation will contribute to more balanced development in Europe.

At the end of the conference, China signed a number of bilateral agreements with other countries, including those on infrastructure construction and food imports.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in conclusion that this format had proved to be fruitful and useful and that it provided all member states that cannot compete with large European states with “an excellent form of cooperation that is part of China’s wider ‘Belt and Road’ policy.”

He said he was pleased that Croatia had signed a dozen agreements with China, emphasising further cooperation in the construction of infrastructure, especially port and railway infrastructure.

“Li’s visit, both our bilateral meeting and today’s summit, will be a reference point in strengthening our relations and improving cooperation through the China+17 platform,” the Croatian PM concluded.

More news about relations between Croatia and China can be found in the Politics section.

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