EU should encourage Central and East Europe to develop trade ties with China

By Wan Zhe Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/3 20:38:39

In recent years, China-EU cooperation has become an important driving force to promote globalization, but waves of anti-globalization and protectionism have also emerged in some developed European countries, pushing for the restriction of Chinese investment in Europe. Central and Eastern European countries actively adopted the Belt and Road (B&R) initiative and pushed for the development of "16+1" cooperation between Central and Eastern Europe and China, adding "positive energy" to Sino-EU cooperation.

An increasing worry of the EU over "16+1" cooperation with China is that the EU fears China's cooperation with the Central and Eastern European countries is not conducive to EU solidarity. A second worry of Western European countries is that China's actions may hamper their interests in Central and Eastern Europe. This region is accustomed to serving as the market of developed industrial countries in Western Europe. Countries like Germany and France often export their overcapacity to these places. The EU is worried that China's strengthening cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries will form a competitive relationship with Western European countries, and China will grab market share. The third worry of Western Europe is that China's B&R initiative will increase the debt burden of Central and Eastern European countries. Some EU countries believe that the debt problem is a major hidden danger to the European economy. They hold the view that if China promotes large-scale infrastructure projects in the region, the government debts of the Central and Eastern European countries will be heavier, making their financial situations continue to deteriorate.

The 16 countries in Central and Eastern Europe are former Soviet republics or used to be socialist countries. After the Cold War, the countries chose to take the Western road. Poland and other 11 countries have successively joined the EU, owning an "equal vote" within the EU. With the cooperation of China and these countries, the Western countries are deeply worried that the Chinese model will profoundly impact Central and Eastern European countries. The EU is also afraid that the Chinese model will be more appealing than the prospect of European integration, and that Chinese standards will begin to supersede European standards. The EU began to apply "high standards" to China's cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries, setting limits on labor, debt, human rights and other aspects of cooperation.

Although there is some disagreement between Western Europe and China over the "16+1" cooperation, the common interests of both sides are actually bigger. Central and Eastern Europe are not only a part of the EU, but also the global community. Central and Eastern European countries have different cultures and different stages of development, so external support should be available to them from various channels.

China's cooperation with Central and Eastern Europe is based on mutual needs and benefits. The global balance of the world is becoming more diverse, so Western Europe must reposition itself and stop treating Central and Eastern European countries as the backyard of the West and seize the emerging opportunities to cooperate with China. Only in this way can the EU re-open the right direction of integration, making the world economy more dynamic.

The author is chief economist with the International Cooperation Center of the National Development and Reform Commission. bizopinion@globaltimes.com.cn



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