Reuters International

China's Premier Li Keqiang gestures during a news conference after the closing ceremony of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 15, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday expressed confidence in the European Union, calling for a united, prosperous and stable Europe amid widespread concerns about the impact of Brexit and the rise of nationalism.

Speaking at his annual news conference at the end of the annual meeting of China's parliament, Li said that China backed European integration.

"I am optimistic about the prospects of the European Union, and we are optimistic about the development prospects for China-EU relations," he said.

European Council President Donald Tusk in February warned that, in the wake of Brexit and with growing nationalism, the EU faced the biggest challenges in its 60-year history, compounded by an assertive China, an aggressive Russia and worrying declarations from U.S. President Donald Trump.

The Trump administration has stirred concern in Europe due to doubts about NATO and countering Russia in Ukraine, as well as over free trade.

Trump has similarly worried China by criticising the country's trade practices and threatened to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports, as part of his pledge to put "America first".

Li said China did not want to see a trade war with the U.S.

While acknowledging that trade ties between China and the EU have been strained in recent years over steel, Li said that China and the EU had experience at "appropriately resolving" disputes.

(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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