Chinese premier offers billions more to Eastern Europe

BUDAPEST, AFP -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang made clear Monday that China would keep pouring billions of euros into central and eastern Europe despite EU concerns, as he attended a regional summit in Hungary.

Li said that China's Development Bank would make available the equivalent of two billion euros ($2.4 billion) to a new interbank association between the region and China to be inaugurated later in the day.

In addition a second stage of an investment fund has been launched, capitalised with $1 billion, "most of which will be channeled to CEE countries," he said in Budapest.

The sixth annual gathering of the Central and Eastern European Countries group (CEEC) brings Li together with counterparts from 16 nations that have already benefitted from vast amounts of Chinese investment.

This has raised worries in Brussels and in western Europe about growing Chinese influence in these countries, many of which are members of the European Union or are hoping to become so.

The investments have focused on infrastructure projects that will help bring Chinese goods into the region, part of President Xi Jinping's "Belt and Road Initiative".

Li said however that the EU had no reason for concern.

"Our cooperation is open and transparent. We have seen to it that it is conducted in the broader context of China-EU relations, by keeping the relevant EU regulations and... international regulations," he said.

Hungary's right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has often been at odds with Brussels over a range of issues, said that Chinese investments were a "great opportunity" and that "all of Europe will benefit".

"The EU shouldn't close its doors," Orban said. "The world is changing. China has the resources to enable developments that would be impossible with EU funding alone."

After Hungary Li was due to travel to Russia for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Sochi on Thursday and Friday.