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China says leaders from 18 countries to participate in import fair next week

Red flags flutter on the top of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China September 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/Files

BEIJING (Reuters) - A total of 18 countries' leaders will be coming to next week's major import expo in China's commercial hub of Shanghai, the government said on Monday, ranging from Russia and Pakistan to the tiny Cook Islands, though none from major Western nations.

Set to run from Nov. 5 to Nov. 10, the China International Import Expo will bring together thousands of foreign and Chinese companies, aiming to boost imports, allay foreign concern about China's trade practices and show readiness to narrow trade gaps.

But the United States does not plan to send senior government officials to the fair, a U.S. embassy spokesman said last week. China said that the decision was "hard to understand". The two countries are locked in a bitter trade war.

China's Foreign Ministry said leaders would be coming from the Czech Republic, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Lithuania, Panama, El Salvador, Switzerland, the Cook Islands, Croatia, Egypt, Hungary, Georgia, Laos, Malta, Pakistan, Russia and Vietnam.

El Salvador and the Dominican Republic both switched recognition from Taiwan to China this year.

Some are sending presidents, including the Czech Republic and Kenya, while others, such as Russia and Pakistan, are sending their prime ministers.

Asked why certain countries' leaders had been invited specifically, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said everyone was very enthusiastic about attending the trade fair, but as to who represents which country was up to the countries to decide after "friendly consultations" with China.

"Certainly, it has received broad attention and has been broadly welcomed by the international community," he said.

China holding an import fair shows the Chinese government's determination to further open up the country and to share the benefits of China's development, Lu added.

China says more 130 countries and 2,800 companies have decided to take part, including 180 U.S. companies such as Microsoft Corp, Disney and Intel Corp.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced the import expo in early 2017 and will speak at its opening.

However, some critics have dismissed the event, which China plans to hold every year, as largely a propaganda effort.


(Reporting by Ben Blanchard)