Li's trip to boost ties with Central, Eastern European countries

By Yang Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/11/26 23:33:39

Trip to bring relations ‘to higher level’


Chinese Premier Li Keqiang left Beijing on Sunday for an official visit to Hungary and to attend the sixth meeting of heads of government of China and Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) in Budapest.

Experts said the premier's visit will promote China-Europe cooperation on the Belt and Road initiative and bring great potential for economic growth for the nations of the CEEC. 

Li has vowed to bring cooperation between China and the 16 CEEC members as well as Sino-Hungarian relations to a higher level. Li made the statement in an article published in the Hungarian Times before leaving Beijing on Sunday.

"This is an important meeting held on the fifth anniversary of the launching of China-CEEC cooperation (16+1 cooperation). I'm looking forward to the meeting and the visit," Li said in the article.

Political trust between China and CEEC countries has deepened, with the two sides having established cooperation mechanisms in about 20 areas, Li said. Economic cooperation has been growing steadily, with bilateral trade increasing to $58.7 billion in 2016 from $43.9 billion in 2010 and the completion of a number of landmark infrastructure projects, said the premier.

Li will also attend the 16th meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in the Russian city of Sochi from Thursday to Friday, the Xinhua News Agency reported. 

B&R in Europe

Speaking highly of the strategic alignment of the China-proposed Belt and Road initiative with Hungary's Eastern Opening policy, Li said the Belt and Road initiative and 16+1 cooperation have put the two countries' economic and trade cooperation in the fast lane, with progress made in the areas of investment, finance, agriculture, scientific and technological innovation and small and medium-sized enterprises.

"Due to the important geographic location which connects the West and the East, the CEEC will play significant roles in the Belt and Road Initiative, and that's why Poland hopes to become a portal for China to invest in Western Europe, and the Hungary-Serbia Railway can physically connect these economies and shorten the distance for material and personnel exchanges," Bai Ming, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times.

Currently, many projects have been done under China-CEEC cooperation, including the Stanari Thermal Power Plant in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Belgrade Danube Bridge in Serbia, and Wrocław's flood control facility in Poland, chinanews.com reported on Sunday.

"These projects offer potential opportunities for sustainable economic growth in the region. These countries have geographic advantages and China is good at infrastructure construction, so that makes our cooperation complementary," Bai said.

China no challenge to EU

Although China-CEEC cooperation can meet the needs of locals, there are voices expressing "concerns" over China's charm offensive in Eastern Europe, with some worrying that China might challenge the EU's cohesion.

"European integration seems very much at stake when Eastern European governments use their relationship with China to gain leverage over Brussels," Lucrezia Poggetti, a research associate at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies, wrote on the website of The Diplomat on Friday.

"China-EU and China-CEEC cooperation should not be demonized, because the China-EU relationship is not a zero-sum game, and if Western scholars really care about CEEC nations, they should learn about local people's feelings and requests," said Cui Hongjian, director of the Department for European Studies of China Institute of International Studies.

Currently, the EU and the US can no longer provide help to boost CEEC economies, said Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at the Renmin University of China.

"The US is becoming less interested in participating in European issues, and those leading countries in the EU, in many cases, can't even solve their own problems. The economic situation of some Balkan countries cannot meet the EU's standard for member states, so they can't join the EU. This is why the CEEC is seeking opportunities from China," Wang said.



 


Newspaper headline: Li heads to Hungary for CEEC meeting


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