Half a decade after it was started, cooperation between China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries (CEEC) has made remarkable headway, officials and experts said ahead of the annual China-CEEC summit.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will join his 16 CEEC colleagues in Budapest, Hungary, for the sixth meeting of heads of government of China and the CEEC from Nov. 26-29.
A crucial mechanism to facilitate bilateral cooperation, this year's summit is set to broaden and deepen cooperation between the two sides, experts said.
"Five years have passed and together, we have made great achievements in policy coordination, economic cooperation, cultural exchanges and many more...fields," Chinese Ambassador to Hungary Duan Jielong said at a recent think tank conference.
Calling the current ties between China and the CEEC "at their best in history," the ambassador highlighted the booming trade and investment between the two sides since the 16 1 cooperation mechanism was established in 2012.
Chinese investment in CEEC is now over 9 billion U.S. dollars while CEEC invested 1.4 billion dollars in China. In the first three quarters this year, their trade exceeded 49 billion dollars, marking an increase of 14.5 percent year-on-year. China's imports from CEEC have risen 21.9 percent.
The two sides have also expanded infrastructure and industrial partnerships, with a number of flagship projects underway.
The projects include the Hungary-Serbia high-speed railway, the China-Serbia Friendship Bridge across the Danube in Belgrade, and highway projects in Macedonia and Montenegro.
In the financial sector, China established the 10-billion-dollar China-CEEC Investment Cooperation Fund last year and it has already invested in 12 projects in five CEE countries. Hungary, Lithuania and Poland have participated in China's bond market.
Moreover, China and CEEC have witnessed growing people-to-people exchanges. In 2016, there were 1 million tourists between them, with the number of Chinese tourists visiting the 16 countries tripled compared to 2015.
Huang Ping, director of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said compared with decades-long relationship with other European nations, China's relations with CEEC have grown rapidly in just five years. "They possess unimaginable potential for future development" and will help enrich China-European Union (EU) cooperation,he said.
BELT & ROAD OPPORTUNITY
Looking ahead, Ambassador Duan Jielong stressed that China will adhere to its fundamental national policy of opening up, pursuing a mutually beneficial strategy, and promoting the Belt and Road Initiative.
"China's stable and developing economy puts forward great opportunities. China wishes to share those opportunities with the world," Duan said. "Let us combat the instability of the world economy with the stability in the Chinese economy; combat the uncertainty of the world order with the certainty of China-EU relations and... 16 1 cooperation."
The CEEC, home to many emerging economies, make up nearly one fourth of the countries along the Belt and Road.
"There are promising opportunities for the CEEC and Europe in China's Belt and Road Initiative," Istvan Ijgyarto, Hungarian state secretary for cultural and science diplomacy, said. "(The) CEEC recognized this historic chance and all declared their support to the initiative."
NO CONFLICT WITH EU
Ijgyarto said that Hungary strongly supports the platform, regarding China-CEEC cooperation as an important part of the cooperation between the EU and China, representing added value.
The Chinese ambassador also dismissed worries over a possible conflict with China-EU relations.
China maintains that the 16 1 cooperation is an important part of China-EU relations, supplements China-EU relations and gives a specific drive to China-EU cooperation, he said.
"As Chinese President Xi Jinping puts it, we see 16 1 cooperation (as) an important gateway to incorporate the Belt and Road Initiative into the European Economic Community, a new engine to boost China-EU cooperation, and a priority platform to reinforce four major China-EU partnerships of peace, growth, reform and civilization," Duan said.
Huang pointed out that none of the China-CEEC cooperation projects clash with China-EU ties. Besides, representatives from the EU are also participating in the China-CEEC summit as observers.