Source: Xinhua Published: 2016-11-5
File photo taken on July 18, 2013 shows the first direct cargo train leaving from Zhengzhou to Europe at the railway container center in Zhengzhou, capital of central China`s Henan Province. (Xinhua/Zhu Xiang)
The cooperation between China and 16 Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries boomed in the past year, experts and officials said days before the opening of an annual China-CEE summit.
The upcoming fifth summit of China and 16 CEE countries will be held in Riga, capital of Latvia.
The China-CEE summit, with a view to deepening traditional friendship and increasing mutual benefit, was initiated in Warsaw in 2012, and subsequently staged in Bucharest, Belgrade, and east China`s Suzhou city.
Dubbed as the 16+1 mechanism, the cooperation between China and CEE countries has yielded fruitful outcomes since Suzhou summit in November 2015, during which the two sides prioritized sectors for cooperation from 2015 to 2020, ranging from infrastructure, finance, agriculture to people-to-people exchange.
"By implementing the agenda set forth on the Suzhou Summit and linking 16+1 mechanism with the Belt and Road Initiative, China and CEE countries have seen fruitful outcomes during the past year, setting an example for regional cooperation," said Professor Wang Yiwei, director of the Center for European Studies at Renmin University of China.
One example is the launch of a thermal power plant in Stanari, 180 km northwest of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina(BIH), in September.
The power plant is built by a Chinese company with the help of a 350-million-euro (386.94 million U.S. dollars) loan from China Development Bank.
It is the first project to utilize the 10-billion-U.S. dollar Special Credit Line under the 16+1 mechanism, Chinese Ambassador to BiH Chen Bo told Xinhua in an interview after the launching ceremony, adding its success represents a concrete result in the 16+1 format.
Another example is Romania`s announcement in May that the construction of Cernavoda nuclear power plant would be the country`s priority.
According to a Memorandum of Understanding signed by China General Nuclear and Romanian national nuclear company Nuclearelectrica in November last year, they will develop, construct, and operate unit three and four of the plant.
With an investment of more than 7 billion euros (7.74 billion U.S. dollars), it is the largest cooperation project in terms of the volume of capital between China and CEE countries.
The third example is the project for modernizing the Belgrade-Budapest railway. The construction work of the railway section in Serbia began late last year, and the section in Hungary was given go-ahead by the country`s parliament in April, paving the way for the flagship project under the 16+1 mechanism.
The 370 km railway will significantly improve the transportation between the two countries, as it will shorten the traveling time between the two countries from eight hours to less than three.
By promoting interconnectivity, China and CEE countries have reshaped their trade structure and scaled up their trade volume. Data show that the number of China-Europe freight train lines, since its inception in 2011, have amounted to 39.On a regular basis,16 Chinese cities operate the cargo trains to about a dozen European cities. The trade volume between China and CEE countries reached 56.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2015, an increase of 28 percent comparing to 2010.
Moreover, China-CEE countries have also deepened cooperation in the fields like traditional Chinese medicine, agricultural products and financial network during the past year, Wang noted.
"The 16+1 mechanism echoes the `Look East` policy of EEC countries, deepens China`s cooperation with CEE and the Europe at large, setting examples for other regions to link their own development strategies with China`s Belt and Road Initiative," said Wang, adding "the 16+1 mechanism itself becomes a highlight of regional cooperation."
SOLID FOUNDATION FOR COOPERATION
Analysts noted China and CEE countries have solid foundation for collaboration, as CEE countries, which are eyeing better infrastructure and interconnectivity, want to use China`s strength in these fields.
CEE countries are attracted to 16+1 mechanism because they need more investment to improve their infrastructure and economy, according to Professor Men Jing, director of the center for EU-China study at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium.
"At the same time, China is promoting the Belt and Road Initiative. To see it on the map, although the initiative covers west Europe, the key points are CEE countries," Men added.
The economies are complementary and thus have tremendous potential in cooperation, especially in the fields of industrial equipment and interconnectivity, professor Wang noted.
Taking interconnectivity as example, the professor said CEE countries had a plan of linking "Three Rivers" - namely the Elbe River, the Odra River, the Danube River - with "Three Seas" - namely the Baltic Sea, the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea, while China is working with parties involved to build the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Line, which connects CEE with south Europe.
"Under the 16+1 mechanism, the two ambitious plans have tremendous potential for China-CEE cooperation," Wang said.
TIES WITH EU
When promoting the 16+1 cooperation, an unavoidable issue for China is its ties with the European Union(EU).
"Europe used to have a negative attitude towards the 16+1 mechanism, seeing it as China`s tactic to split the EU," said Shada Islam, director of policy at Brussels-based think-tank Friends of Europe.
"In recent years, however, the EU gradually viewed it with understanding. But the EU must be assured that 16+1 mechanism is not a secret meeting," said Islam.
As the EU realized that China-CEE cooperation help narrow the gap among its members, the bloc now is more positive towards 16+1 mechanism, Wang noted.
China is also paying attention to the EU`s concern about governance standards under the mechanism, he said.
"The 16+1 mechanism is an important part of China-EU relations; China is neither willing nor capable of splitting Europe," said Ambassador Yang Yanyi, head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, in an exclusive interview with Xinhua.
"China definitely has no idea to split the EU," Men echoed the ambassador. However, the professor added, "the result or effect of the 16+1 mechanism may unintentionally cause some misunderstanding on the EU side."
"So China should make efforts to remove the EU`s suspicion on this issue, so as not to harm bilateral relations," she said.
Since the very beginning of China-CEE summit in 2012, China has been willing to invite the EU to participate in the 16+1 mechanism, Yang noted.
"China-CEE cooperation, guided by the principle of openness and transparency, aims at strengthening China-EU relations in an all-around way," said the ambassador.
"As always, China supports the integration of Europe and hopes that Europe is united, stable, and prosperous," she said.
Wang Yiwei is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.