Belt and Road Initiative will boost China-Central and Eastern Europe co-operation

The headquarter building of China Investment Corporation (CIC) in Beijing.
The headquarter building of China Investment Corporation (CIC) in Beijing.PHOTO: REUTERS

BEIJING - Intensive co-operation between China and countries in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have in recent years been propelled by the Belt and Road Initiative, Xinhua news agency reports.

All the 16 CEE countries are located on the route charted by the Belt and Road Initiative, which was proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 aimed at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa.

"The initiative has expanded the platform of China-CEE cooperation," said Huo Yuzhen, former Chinese ambassador to Romania and the Czech Republic.

President Xi's upcoming visit to the Czech Republic from March 28-30 is of strategic importance to China's co-operation with the region, Huo said.

Hailing the "best Czech-Chinese relationship in mutual history," Czech Chamber of Deputies Chairman Jan Hamacek said: "The Czech Republic believes that it should play a key role" in upgrading China's co-operation with the 16 CEE countries as a whole, and it is "ambitious to be one of the leading nations within this format."

Established in 2012, a "16+1" mechanism of co-operation involving China and 16 CEE countries has seen constant expansion. According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, the total annual trade volume between China and CEE countries registered US$43.9 billion (S$60 billion) in 2010, and the figure surged to US$60.2 billion dollars in 2014. China has plans to double its trade with the region by 2019.

"China and CEE countries complement each other in terms of their economic development, meaning they have a strong desire to co-operate," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during his visit to the Czech Republic, Poland and Bulgaria last October.

The CEE region now faces the task of upgrading its transportation, electricity and other infrastructure as well as industrial equipment, while China is strong in construction capacity and supporting services and can meet the environmental standard of CEE countries, said Chen Xin, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

China signed a memorandum to promote the Belt and Road Initiative with Poland, Serbia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Slovakia, five key Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, after the "16+1" economic and trade forum in east China's Suzhou city last November.

The mechanism has established a new platform for all-round, extensive and multi-dimensional co-operation, said Xi after the forum.

China welcomes CEE countries to participate in the development of the connectivity-based Belt and Road Initiative, and will support Europe's integration and improve the Sino-European comprehensive strategic partnership, Xi said.

China also supports the integration of the "16+1" mechanism with the respective growth demands of CEE countries to better serve their interests with concrete projects, Xi added.

Xi's upcoming visit to the Czech republic is the first tour by the Chinese president to the Central and Eastern Europe, which will undoubtedly deepen China's co-operation with the CEE countries, said Chen.

Central and Eastern Europe is an essential component of China's Belt and Road Initiative as a quarter of the countries along the route are in the region.

"One of the priorities of the 16+1 co-operation is to strengthen regional transport infrastructure in synergy with the Belt and Road Initiative," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told the November forum.

Major co-operation projects between China and the CEE countries are moving ahead steadily. The Belgrade bridge over the Danube has been completed and opened to traffic, marking the completion of the first major project undertaken by China in CEE countries.

China will make every effort to advance the Budapest-Belgrade railway, a flagship project. Upon completion, the railway will help create a fast lane for trade between China and Europe.

China would also like to push forward the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Line with relevant parties on a win-win basis so that the CEE region will be able to facilitate rapid transit of trade between China and Europe.

Huo said China can also step up energy co-operation with the region to help the CEE countries upgrade their nuclear, hydro- and thermal power plants.

"Nuclear power projects are currently under discussion between China and Romania," said the former ambassador to both Czech Republic and Romania.

"The Belt and Road Initiative is taking China's best production capacity and technologies to the CEE," said Zhao Junjie, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The positive interactions between China and the CEE countries exemplify China's co-operation with Europe as a whole and will boost the relations between the two sides, said Zhao.