BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — China wants to do business in Eastern Europe, the prime minister said Tuesday, as he and 300 company executives prepared to meet the region's political leaders.
Li Keqiang said China was interested in investing in infrastructure, renewable energy and agriculture. Closer ties would bring "massive investments and will lead to a growth in trade," he said.
Analysts say China is attracted by Eastern Europe's cheap labor and looser business regulation at a time when wages are rising at home and the national currency strengthening.
The summit, which will bring together 16 regional government leaders, will also provide China with a chance to increase its presence in the region at a time when the EU and Russia are jostling for influence there.
Some Eastern European countries, like Romania, are part of the EU. Others are considering joining and are torn between commercial ties with Western Europe and Russia, the region's long-time dominant power.
Establishing stronger ties now could provide China with a gateway to markets in the EU, the world's largest economic bloc.
"China needs long-term trustworthy political friends and commercial partners at a world level while Romania and the countries in the region have a tradition in this sense," said Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta. He said that most countries at the meeting were "young democracies" which valued a relationship with China.
China's relations with countries in the region were generally strong during the communist era and, apart from the occasional rows over meetings with the Dalai Lama and crackdowns on Chinese immigrants, Eastern European countries are less critical of China's human rights record. Both tend to prioritize economic pragmatism.
On Monday, China announced a string of preliminary business deals with Romania, the meeting's host. It said it intended to invest in nuclear and wind energy as well as a high-speed railway. It also said it would resume imports and beef and pork from the country.
Bilateral commerce between China and Romania this year amounted to $3.27 billion.