As Chinese Premier Li Keqiang heads to Budapest on Sunday for the sixth meeting of heads of government of China-Central and Eastern European (CEE) Countries, the once lagging behind part of Europe gets another chance to showcase its new title -- the fastest growing region in Europe.
Data from the European Union (EU) lists Romania (8.6 percent in Q3, 2017), Latvia (6.2 percent), Poland and Czech Republic (both 5.0 percent) as top four fastest growing economies in the Union, which happen to be members of the China-CEE cooperation framework and take the lion's share of China's investment in the region.
China is assisting Europe in transforming its once economically backward countries into its new growth engines.
From 2009 to 2014, CEE countries' exports to China grew by 173 percent, while total trade exchange with China grew by 86 percent, according to Luxemburger Wort daily. In the first four months of 2017, CEE countries exported 5.48 billion U.S. dollars worth of product to China, marking an 18.9-percentage increase year-on-year.
Every year, over 800,000 Chinese tourists spend their vacations in CEE countries, with countries like Bulgaria witnessing a 50-percentage-point surge in visitors year-on-year in the first half of 2017. Furthermore, over 8 billion U.S. dollars of investment has been brought into the region due to China's Belt and Road Initiative, according to figures from the Chinese government.
It is not these countries alone that have benefitted from the cooperation, the EU has too.
For one, by addressing uneven development among member states, Chinese investment is beneficial in promoting EU integration. In addition, many of the primary materials exported from CEE countries to western and northern Europe are processed and exported to China, which also contributes to the development of Europe.
Not to mention, with the construction of the Budapest-Belgrade railway, China-Europe Land-Sea Express and more logistic centers in the region, China is helping further enhance CEE countries' role as a transport hub over the Eurasian Land Bridge.
Taking full advantage of their geographic location, connecting the Asian and European continents, CEE countries can play a critical role in infrastructure and connectivity building as well as global production capacity cooperation, thus contributing to the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership.
In short, it's a win-win game. The China-EU relationship is currently at a historical peak, with bilateral trade reaching levels that beggar belief ( Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, puts it at more than 1 million U.S. dollars every minute). Over 600 flights shuttle between the two sides every week, with more than 6.6 million mutual visits recorded last year alone.
Despite overall healthy relations, the EU has sometimes -- and unfortunately so -- treated China with anxiety and accusation.
By depicting China's investment as espionage targeting European companies' high technology and a way to "buy political influence" from CEE countries, some EU politicians seem to fear that robust China-CEE cooperation would sow discord between the EU and its eastern partners.
However, the only thing the EU has to fear is fear itself.
For those who describe China's investment as espionage, they neglect, if not intentionally, the following figures.
Since 2010, China has had the world's fastest supercomputer. In 2016, China had ten universities in the world's top 50 for engineering/technology and computer science. In the same year, China launched the world's first quantum satellite. And over the past five years, artificial intelligence patents lodged by China jumped by 186 percent. On this measure China is now second only to the United States, and well ahead of the EU and Japan, said the Sydney Morning Herald.
Faced with such data, any notion that China might be seeking to take over European companies in a bid to steal technology is laughable and stems from either ignorance or cultural arrogance.
The same attitude can be easily traced behind the smear campaign against the Belt and Road Initiative. In fact, European countries such as Greece, Poland and Siberia have greatly benefited from the initiative. However, regrettably, deeply-rooted zero-sum mentality and an ideological bias against China have made some politicians and some media turn a blind eye to these achievements.
During their talks in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, on Nov. 14, Premier Li told Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, that the two sides should solve their old problems with greater wisdom. EU's apparent worry over growing China-CEE cooperation is definitely one of the "old problems."
As more and more European countries show interest in Chinese investment and the Belt and Road Initiative, old-fashioned mentalities and bias put the whole continent's prosperity at risk. A more confident, open-minded attitude by the EU towards China surely benefits all. And that's probably the "greater wisdom" for which Li had asked.