Chinese PM in talks with east and central European leaders

Chinese PM in talks with east and central European leaders
China Prime Minister Li Keqiang.

BELGRADE - Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang arrived in Belgrade Monday for a summit with leaders from 16 central and eastern European countries, a region where Beijing would like to boost its presence.

Li will hold talks with his Hungarian and Serbian counterparts Viktor Orban and Aleksandar Vucic over plans for a high-speed bullet train link between Budapest and Belgrade to be built by 2017.

The initiative is part of Serbia's ambition to become China's gateway to the Balkans and onwards to Europe.

Beijing has said it is interested in investing in energy, agriculture and industry as well as infrastructure.

Trade between China and the region, which has expanded five-fold since 2003, will also be on the agenda of the two-day summit, which starts on Tuesday.

"I am convinced that guidelines and new initiatives that we will present at the summit... will trace the path for our future cooperation," Li said in an interview with local media.

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said trade with the region could exceed $60 billion (48 billion euros) this year, up some $4.9 billion on 2013.

However, Chinese investment has remained below targets set during a previous summit in Warsaw in 2012, when China promised loans of 10 billion euros, and last year in Bucharest.

During his stay in Belgrade, Li, the first Chinese prime minister to visit Serbia in almost 30 years, will officially open a 1.5-kilometre (one-mile) bridge over the Danube river.

When it was first announced, the project was his country's first big infrastructure investment on the European continent worth $170 million.

The bridge is an "example of successful cooperation, which is important to encourage other Chinese companies to follow it," Aleksandra Stanarevic of Serbia's Chamber of Commerce told AFP.

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