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Red flags flutter outside the Great Hall of the People before the second plenary session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, China March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song(reuters_tickers)
BEIJING (Reuters) - China is in close preparatory talks ahead of a summit with eastern European nations scheduled in Bulgaria this year, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Tuesday, adding that he had not heard the annual event could be pared back.
Reuters this week reported that China was considering paring back the summits, which have fed concern in Western capitals that Beijing is seeking to divide the continent, citing three European diplomats.
The diplomats said there were indications China could delay the next "16+1" summit, scheduled for the Bulgarian capital Sofia later this year, and hold future meetings every two years, instead of on an annual basis.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing he was aware of the report, but had not heard the events might be pared back or postponed.
"China attaches great importance to this, and we are in close touch and communication with all sides on preparatory work for the meeting," he added, without elaborating.
"With the hard work of all sides, China-Eastern Europe cooperation over the last five or more years has maintained a good development momentum, and has made great achievements."
Besides boosting cooperation between China and Eastern Europe, the summits played a positive role in promoting European integration and balanced development in Europe, Lu said.
The swift development of this cooperation could not have come without the impetus and guidance from the leaders' meetings, Lu said, adding that last year's summit agreed on Bulgaria as the site for this year's event.
The possible shift comes amid unease in Beijing over criticism of the summits in Brussels, Berlin and other capitals, at a time when the EU is discussing steps to more strictly control corporate takeovers of European firms by Chinese rivals.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)