Chinese PM Li Keqiang: China to Propose Land-Sea Express Line to Europe
A written interview of China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang with media representatives from Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) ahead of the Third China-CEEC meeting in Belgrade on December 16.
(Courtesy of the Chinese Embassy in Bulgaria)
The first meeting between leaders of China and Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) was held in Warsaw in 2012, and leaders from the 17 countries met again in Bucharest in 2013 for their second meeting. What were the achievements of these two meetings? How have the meetings helped promote cooperation and development and improve lives of the people? The third meeting will soon be held in Belgrade. What initiatives will China put forward at the meeting?
For China-CEEC cooperation, the annual meeting of the heads of government serves as the most important engine, most reliable support and most forceful guarantee. As the Chinese put it, “A strong locomotive drives the train fast.” From Warsaw to Bucharest, both meetings have helped promote China-CEEC cooperation to a higher level. China’s Twelve Measures for Promoting Friendly Cooperation with Central and Eastern European Countries adopted in Warsaw and the Bucharest Guidelines for Cooperation released in Bucharest involve 50 cooperation initiatives, spanning finance, trade, connectivity, green energy, as well as local and people-to-people exchanges. These initiatives have been welcomed and supported by all sides. The US billion special credit line and the China-CEEC Investment Cooperation Fund have offered effective financing solutions for companies from CEECs. A number of major projects, such as the Stanari thermal power plant in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Mihajlo Pupin Bridge in Belgrade, the Bar-Boljare Highway in Montenegro and the Budapest-Belgrade Railway, will certainly boost local development and benefit the local people. Trade between China and CEECs this year is expected to exceed US billion for the first time. Products from CEECs have entered more and more average Chinese households. Preliminary statistics show that there are nearly 1,000 companies from CEECs operating in China. Events such as the high-level symposium of think tanks, the cultural cooperation forum, the education policy dialogue and the young political leaders’ forum have all helped bring China and CEECs closer together and promoted dialogue and exchange among different cultures and civilizations.
China-CEEC cooperation had a good start in Warsaw, and was elevated to a higher level in Bucharest. The third leaders’ meeting will soon be held in Belgrade on December 16, and I wish to extend congratulations to Serbia on behalf of the Chinese government. All preparations are now well underway. I am confident that the Belgrade Guidelines for Cooperation to be released at the meeting will put forth new measures and proposals for closer cooperation and deeper mutual understanding, and will become an upgraded agenda for cooperation that goes in parallel with the Bucharest Guidelines for Cooperation. China will put forward the following initiatives at the meeting: build a China-Europe land-sea express line based on the Budapest-Belgrade Railway and the Greek port of Piraeus to enhance regional connectivity; start the formulation of a medium-term agenda for China-CEEC cooperation to map out a common blueprint for future cooperation; set out a package proposal on financial cooperation to better facilitate business collaboration; designate 2015 as the China-CEEC Year of Tourism Cooperation and Promotion to deepen people-to-people exchanges. I look forward, with full confidence, to meeting leaders of the 16 countries in Belgrade.
What are the CEECs’ advantages in cooperating with China? How do they increase exports to China to balance two-way trade?
China and CEECs are at similar levels of development and enjoy respective strengths. And their economies are highly complementary. CEECs have sound industrial basis, advanced science, technology and education, and rich human resources. At the same time, they urgently need more financing to improve and upgrade their infrastructure. China, for its part, has a well-established industrial system, cost-effective manufacturing sectors and adequate foreign exchange reserve, which could effectively meet CEECs’ demand in infrastructure, trade and investment. The governments of all our countries are faced with the task of developing the economy and improving people’s lives. China is opening up faster to the west and CEECs are placing more importance on cooperation with the east. This makes our policies highly aligned with each other. People of our countries enjoy traditional friendship, mutual respect and mutual trust, and all want to achieve mutual benefit through cooperation. Over the past three years, with infrastructure development as the priority and major-project cooperation as the linchpin, and with the support of multiple forms of investment and financing, China and CEECs have made comprehensive and solid advances in our practical cooperation in trade, investment, connectivity, science, technology, energy as well as local and people-to-people exchanges. This has promoted our respective development and brought real benefits to our people.
Recent years have seen rapid growth of trade between China and CEECs. In particular, CEEC exports to China have been growing much faster than their imports from China. From January to November this year, growth of CEEC exports to China was five percentage points higher than their imports from China, and two-way trade is moving towards basic balance. China does not intentionally pursue trade surplus. The door of the Chinese market is always wide open, and China stands for greater cooperation as a way to ease trade imbalances. In the past year, China hosted the CEEC Fair, and held CEEC promotion events during the China International Fair for Investment and Trade, the China International Small and Medium Enterprises Fair and other well-known expos. This has helped boost the export of quality products from CEECs to China and also met the demand of Chinese consumers. Quality inspection cooperation between China and CEECs has been enhanced. China has signed cooperation agreements with a number of countries including Hungary and Latvia this year. During my visit, China and Serbia will sign an agreement on quarantine and health requirements of Serbian beef and mutton exports to China. We will continue to encourage competitive and reputable Chinese companies to invest in CEECs and engage in various forms of cooperation. We also hope that CEECs would provide Chinese companies with a fairer and more transparent business environment, and offer Chinese businesses more convenience on entry visas and work permits. I am confident that as long as we work together towards the same goal, we will be able to ensure further progress in China-CEEC practical cooperation and move towards an all-round, wide-ranging and multi-leveled structure for China-CEEC cooperation.
How could China-CEEC cooperation be aligned with the effort of building China-EU partnerships for peace, growth, reform and civilization and China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative?
China firmly supports the European integration process and hopes to see a more united and prosperous Europe. China appreciates the political will of the CEECs to join the EU and respects their choice. China has supported CEECs with concrete actions in accelerating their own development and promoting the EU’s overall development. China and the EU, the biggest developing country and the biggest grouping of developed countries in the world today, share growing common interests and are deepening their mutually beneficial cooperation. We have full confidence in the future of China-Europe relations.
China-CEEC cooperation is an important part of China-Europe relations. China-CEEC cooperation, as an important innovation in the overall China-Europe cooperation, has maintained sound momentum of growth in the past three years, and has become an important growth area and engine for China-Europe ties. Last August, 15 Chinese provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, whose economies combined account for two thirds of the national total, participated in the Second China-CEEC Local Leaders' Meeting. During the meeting, the three provinces of Hebei, Zhejiang and Fujian alone reached cooperation agreements worth US billion with local governments of CEECs, turning a new page in China-Europe exchanges at the local level. Connectivity is the highlight of China-CEEC cooperation and a bright spot in China-Europe cooperation. The Mihajlo Pupin Bridge is the first large infrastructure project Chinese companies undertook in Europe. China's proposal of building the China-Europeland-sea express line on the basis of the Belgrade-Budapest Railway and the Greek port of Piraeuswill directly impact an area of 340,000 square kilometers and a population of 32 million. The express line will greatly enhance the transport and logistics network of countries along the way, promote their economic growth and people's livelihood, and deepen China’s mutually beneficial cooperation with these countries. It will set a model for China-Europe cooperation on connectivity.
China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative is one for peace and win-win cooperation. It champions a spirit of openness, inclusiveness and mutual learning. China-CEEC cooperation values equality and mutual benefit. Hence, the two are very much aligned and have a lot in common. CEECs, as a bridge spanning over the Eurasian continent, enjoy distinct geographical advantages. China is ready to work with CEECs to make overall planning, improve the operation of the China-Europe international cargo trains, push forward the construction of the China-Europe land-sea express line and strengthen subregional connectivity in Central and Eastern Europe, so as to jointly foster a fast, smooth and efficient Asia-Europe transport and logistics network, for the benefit of people along the route.
What challenges will China-CEEC cooperation face in the future and how should we cope with them? Given the different national conditions of CEECs, what can be done to ensure the sustainability of China-CEEC cooperation and make sure that all get to benefit from such cooperation?
Thanks to the joint efforts of all parties, China-CEEC cooperation has grown into an important platform for China-Europe cooperation in a brief span of three years. The mechanism, which has shown great scale and cluster effect, has been steadily recognized by the international community, and our people have placed high hopes on it. The biggest challenge China-CEEC cooperation may face is the potential gap between countries' expectations and the actual cooperation outcomes.
The Central and Eastern European countries, despite their different national conditions, share commonality in their cooperation with China. They all have a strong desire for cooperation in infrastructure, including highways, railways, ports, power plants, tourism, agriculture and culture. They all hope to attract more investment and expand exports. China has a vast territory and huge market, and even the season may vary from one region to another. Different localities in China all have their own development features and cooperation needs. All this presents opportunities for our mutually beneficial cooperation. We need to note that countries may focus on different specific cooperation priorities in China-CEEC cooperation, and may choose to conduct projects in their own way, and with their own pace and intensity. A lack of coordination may reduce the overall effect and quality of cooperation.
Therefore, we have focused on developing new areas of growth while taking into consideration the different development features and practical needs of CEECs. The purpose is to fully leverage the geographic advantages and sectoral strengths of the 16 countries. Main entities in specific areas, given their advantage of easy access to information and communication, may increase collaboration and mutual sharing to achieve better allocation of resources and greater results of cooperation. We may establish a “B-to-B” business cooperation model, and improve the overall layout of China-CEEC cooperation so that all will get involved, benefit from the cooperation and achieve common development.
The above idea has been widely supported by CEECs. In fact, it was a major deliverable of the Bucharest meeting. To fully harness the creativity and enthusiasm of all parties, we will not seek uniformity in the operation of associations. Instead, countries are encouraged to take advantage of their own strengths. Such an approach has paid off. In the past year, associations for tourism, agriculture, provincial governors and institutes of higher learning have been set up. During this meeting, we will have the inauguration ceremony of the China-CEEC Business Council, and cooperation platforms will be set up for infrastructure, energy, and think tanks in time to come. The China-CEEC Association of Tourism Promotion Agencies and Businesses has become a main designer and important player in the 2015 Year ofChina-CEEC Tourism Cooperation and Promotion. The China-CEEC Association of Governors of Provinces and Regions is playing a bigger role in local-level cooperation. I am fully confident that with joint efforts of all sides, the associations will give strong boost to our cooperation in various areas, providing the most powerful support and most solid anchor for the sustained growth of China-CEEC cooperation. In this I have full confidence.
China supports establishing an executive body of a China-CEEC association on promoting agricultural cooperation in Bulgaria and has signed an MOU with Bulgaria for this purpose. What is the prospect of China-Bulgaria agricultural cooperation? How better should Bulgaria play its role in advancing China-CEEC cooperation?
The agricultural sector in Bulgaria and other CEECs enjoys a good foundation and their farm produce such as meat and dairy products boast high quality. China, on its part, has a large population and huge market. Hence there is great potential in China-CEEC agricultural cooperation. China supports capable Chinese companies in conducting agricultural cooperation in Bulgaria and other CEECs and, on the basis of meeting needs of the two sides, exploring third-country markets with their CEEC partners. The association will provide a key platform for deepening China-CEEC agricultural cooperation and facilitate multi-tiered and all-dimensional cooperation between the governments, research institutions and enterprises of the two sides. It is our hope that Bulgaria and other CEECs will make the most of this platform to raise China-CEEC cooperation to a new height for the benefit of our peoples.
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