China offers vote of confidence in Europe ahead of Li visit

BEIJING - China offered a vote of confidence in the euro zone on Friday, saying that it was sure Greece's talks with creditors to avoid defaulting on its debt would go positively, ahead of Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Europe next week.

Having failed to clinch a deal with its international creditors a day earlier, Greece is gearing up for a last-ditch effort on Saturday to avert as default, with a repayment to the International Monetary Fund falling due next week. .

"We have full confidence in how that will progress," Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao said at a news conference. "China would like to see Greece remain in the euro zone and appreciates the relevant parties' efforts in this regard."

Li leaves for Europe next week on a trip that will include a China-EU summit in Brussels and a visit to France.

Li is expected to sign deals on aviation, nuclear energy, finance and agriculture when he is there and will visit Toulouse, home to Airbus Group, Wang added, without giving details.

Airbus is in talks to sell some 50-70 A330 wide-body jets to China as part of plans to set up a new industrial plant in the world's fastest-growing aviation market, sources familiar with the discussions told Reuters this week.

The EU is China's largest trading partner and China is the EU's second largest trading partner, though the two are often locked in trade disputes over subsidies and anti-dumping.

China therefore has a vested interest in ensuring the EU's economic health.

"China has all along supported the European integration process and hopes to see a stable, united and prosperous EU," Wang said.

For Greece, China sees its strategic location as a portal into both Europe and Africa for the distribution of Chinese products though has so far shown little interest in getting involved in financial help for Greece this year.

On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry declined to comment when asked whether Beijing would offer Greece emergency loans or buy assets in the event of a default. Last year, China signalled that it would buy bonds when Greece issues debt again.

In February, Li urged Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to ensure protection of the rights of China's companies and backing for a port project.

China's Cosco manages two of the Piraeus port's cargo piers. Under a privatisation scheme last year, it had been shortlisted, along with four other suitors, as a potential buyer of a stake of 67 per cent in the port.