June 25, 2011 – By James Pomfret and Marton Dunai
BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Saturday he was "still confident" that Europe can overcome the debt crisis and said China would remain a long-term investor in Europe's debt market.
The Chinese Premier spoke at a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a visit to Hungary.
"I have confidence in European economic development," he said. "China is a long-term investor in Europe's sovereign debt market. In recent years we have increased by a quite big margin holdings of euro bonds."
"In the future, as we have done in the past, we will support Europe and the euro," Wen added.
He said China stood willing to help Europe "work for expeditious recovery and stable growth," but did not give exact figures on how much euro zone sovereign debt China might buy.
Wen also said China was willing to buy a "certain amount" of Hungarian government bonds and aims to boost bilateral trade to $20 billion by 2015. He did not specify the amount of Hungarian bonds China would be willing to purchase either.
He said China's state development bank would provide 1 billion euros for development projects between Hungary and China.
The Chinese premier is visiting Europe as the euro zone grapples to contain Greece's worsening debt crisis and possible default which analysts fear could roil global markets and trigger another financial crisis.
China has large holdings of euro-denominated assets in its vast $3.05 trillion foreign reserves and is desperate to do what it can to preserve the value of its holdings, though analysts say the extent to which China may commit fresh funds toward purchasing distressed European debt as a market-calming gesture, will likely be limited.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said China's buying of Hungarian government bonds would increase the security of debt financing for Hungary in the medium term.
"The purchase of government bonds is also important for Hungary as Hungary is able to finance itself from markets but the fact that China will buy further will bring huge security," Orban said.
While Wen is expected to face a barrage of protests and criticism from governments in Britain and Germany over China's human rights record and its recent clampdown on dissent, the release of prominent activist and artist Ai Weiwei on the eve of Wen's visit could ease some pressure on this front.
The 54-year-old artist Ai was freed on bail on Wednesday, while a batch of Ai's associates and other activists have also been freed since then, marking a climbdown of sorts by Chinese authorities, who have rarely flinched in prosecuting critics of Party rule.
The 27-member EU bloc is now China's largest trading partner with bilateral trade worth nearly 400 billion euros ($573 billion).
(Writing by Krisztina Than and James Pomfret; Editing by Toby Chopra)