China-CEEC trade hits $19b, ties not dividing Europe

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2019/4/12 22:23:44

16+1 mechanism expands to include Greece

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left) and his Croatian counterpart Andrej Plenkovic unveil a plaque to mark the completion of the first phase of construction of the Peljesac Bridge being built by a Chinese consortium on the Peljesac Peninsula in southern Croatia on Thursday. Photo: Xinhua

Increasing cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) is neither driving the latter away from European integration nor making the continent more divided, Chinese analysts stressed, as leaders from China and CEEC gathered in Croatia on Friday for their annual meeting. 

As the last stop of his visit to Europe, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang is scheduled to attend the eighth leaders' meeting of China and CEEC. Before the summit, the Chinese premier was in Brussels for the 21st China-EU summit.

On Thursday local time, Li met with senior officials and state leaders, including Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, where consensuses to enhance cooperation were reiterated. 

While visiting the Croatian capital Zagreb on Wednesday before traveling to the summit in the country's southern coastal town of Dubrovnik, one of the locations where HBO's popular series was filmed, Li said that "Our relationship isn't Game of Thrones, but real cooperation." 

His remarks come amid concerns over whether a closer relationship between China and CEEC will make Europe more divided as the 16+1 is yielding concrete fruits despite Europe labeling China an "economic competitor" in industrial fields and a "systemic rival" in the political sector last month. 

On the contrary, the 16+1 has proven to be a mechanism that plays a positive role for CEEC to be better engaged in globalization and European integration, Wu Yikang, the director of the European Studies Center at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

The mechanism, as well as other cooperation platforms, was never designed as a means to separate the bloc. They were natural results of the stronger need for cooperation between China and CEEC, and the booming cooperation projects are proving the vitality of those mechanisms, said Wu. 

Whether the EU will be more divided depends on whether the bloc remains appealing to its members in a changing world, and China is never a factor in the collapse of the EU, said Wu.

Actually the 16+1 mechanism are showing more vitality in recent years and is appealing to regions outside CEEC, Chinese analysts said.

Greece was accepted on Friday as a full member of the cooperation mechanism between China and CEEC. Greece's participation makes it become 17+1 cooperation, Xinhua reported. 

Since the China-CEEC platform was launched in 2012, trade between them has increased more than 50 percent. 

In the first quarter of 2019, trade between China and CEEC hit 132 billion yuan ($19 billion), a 13 percent year-on-year growth and accounting for 15.8 percent of China's foreign trade, Li Kuiwen, spokesperson for the General Administration of Customs, said at a press conference on Friday.

China and the CEEC have also seen growing mutual investment. According to official data, CEEC investment in China has surpassed $1.5 billion, and Chinese investment in the region has exceeded $10 billion, Xinhua reported. 

Meanwhile, China and the CEEC have become important partners within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). All the 16 CEEC have signed BRI cooperation agreements with China, and major projects like the Hungary-Serbia railway are advancing smoothly.

Wang Li, a research fellow at the European Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, noted that Central and Eastern European countries will make their own decisions to serve their national interests and development, and there's nothing wrong with diverse diplomatic strategies. 

The schedule of the China-EU summit and China-CEEC summits as well as their fruits have shown that China-CEEC cooperation is included in the framework of China-Europe cooperation, and there will be more coordination in this regard, said Wang.

Li had repeatedly stressed during his trip that China always welcomes a united and prosperous Europe and that China will work with its partners to create a just and fair business environment.

During a speech at the opening ceremony of the 9th Business Forum of China-CEEC in Dubrovnik on Friday, Li stressed the importance of promoting free trade between the two sides, noting that a new platform will be launched to link small- and medium-sized enterprises of China and CEEC, CGTN reported.

On Thursday morning amid heavy rain, Li and Plenkovic visited the Peljesac Bridge project being built by a Chinese consortium.

It is the biggest transportation infrastructure project between the two countries since they forged diplomatic ties 27 years ago. Acquired by Chinese enterprises through fair competition and public bidding, the project follows market principles and abides by EU rules.

When the two premiers were about to conclude their site visit to the bridge, the drizzles turned to heavy rain. Li said that "I told our workers that the bridge has to weather the storms," and that the Chinese companies have to fulfill all contractual requirements in time to benefit Croatia, according to an article released on the Chinese government website on Friday.

Bigger picture

The Chinese president and premier both chose Europe as their first overseas trip this year. Li's European visit comes a month after President Xi Jinping's state visits to Italy, Monaco and France in March.

As uncertainties are stranding global economic growth, the visits ensure that China and its largest trading partner are committed to a stable and cooperative relation, and that their cooperation is fair, transparent and mutually beneficial, said Chinese analysts.

With the rise of China, competition between China and European countries would be fiercer, but the visits show that the two sides have effective channels to address concerns and disputes, Wang told the Global Times on Friday. 

How China and EU address issues of mutual concern in trade and economic cooperation could also offer some inspiration for the ongoing China-US trade negotiations, said Wu, noting that both sides should always eye a bigger picture amid challenges and disputes.


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