By Agence France-Presse
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will meet leaders from eastern and central Europe in Croatia on Friday to talk business, fresh from a key summit with EU where he pledged opening up his country’s economy.
The coastal city of Dubrovnik is hosting the eighth annual “16+1 cooperation” — an economic platform for Beijing’s investments in 11 eastern European Union states and five Western Balkan countries.
The grouping has been eyed cautiously in western European capitals as an attempt to “divide and rule” the bloc, a goal Li has denied.
In an article published in Croatian dailies ahead of the gathering, the Chinese premier tried to paint the summit in a cheery light:
“When we put 17 multicolour countries together we get a colour richer than a rainbow,” he wrote in the article titled “Multicolour countries, spacious future”.
“If we build a rainbow bridge through Asia and Europe, we will achieve a nice future cooperation.”
Eastern Europe is a core component of Beijing’s vast “Belt and Road” project, valued at up to $1 trillion and aimed at constructing land and sea links to allow Chinese exports to flow westward.
China has previously announced a $10 billion credit line and $3 billion investment fund for the 16-country region.
So far its record on follow-through is mixed, with some major construction projects under way while other promised investments have been delayed or scrapped.
For instance, building on one of 16+1’s flag-ship projects — a railway from Belgrade to Budapest — has just started in Serbia but is held up by snags in Hungary, ultimately making scant progress five years after it was announced.