Last Monday, 09 November 2015, a very important conference was held at the Committee of Regions in Brussels called: “China-Europe Investment and Connectivity Cooperation Forum”. Certainly one of the most stimulating panel discussions was on the Chinese Investment in Central Eastern European Countries (CEEC). It turns out that China is endorsing a huge and independent investment batch in this 16 country block that is shaping infrastructure, energy, transportation, employment and so many other fields in those countries. To be noted here that CEEC is comprised by Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia.
The panel speech was moderated by Dr Duncan Freeman from the Brussels Academy for China and European Studies of the Vrije Universities Brussel (VUB). The stimulating panel discussion was lit up by Mr Gu Hui, Councellor at the Department of European Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, Mr Olivier Onidi, Director of DG Mobility and Transport at the European Commission, Mr Slawomir Majman, President of Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency, HE Ambassador Harry Alex Rusz, Permanent Representation of Hungary to the EU, Mrs Wei Li, Operations Director at China-CEE Investment Cooperation Fund and last but not least Mr Richard Turcsanyi, Associate at the European Institute for Asian Studies.
Mr Gu Hui was the first speaker to address the audience emphasising how the China CEEC relations (16+1) is a platform for mutual beneficial cooperation that unfortunately not everybody knows about. In fact, the Chinese senior councellor sees China and CEEC as “truly old friends”, as he stressed in his speech. The main driving force to China-CEEC cooperation, he later added, is economic cooperation. He also interestingly said that there is a perfect match in this relation as China is a developing country and CEEC represents the emerging economies in Europe. The truth is that China and CEEC are undergoing a “crucial transition period” currently. What is more, Mr Gu stressed that CEEC possess huge means for infrastructure construction, underscoring thus that the two economies are in fact “complimentary”.
The Suzhou Summit
In addition, the Chinese official showed his keen admiration and respect for the common commitment of the 16 CEE leaders so far. He reminded to the audience as well that the next meeting for 16+1 cooperation platform will be held soon in Suzhou, China. The aim of the Summit will be to sum up the cooperation’s progress so far and explore further fruitful projects in 2016. As the rest of the panelists and participants of the Forum last Monday, Mr Gu did not omit to mention how important the One Belt One Road is for CEEC and how this strategic Chinese programme aims to deploy various projects within CEEC. The upcoming Suzhou summit is bound to be a “milestone” for the 16+1 cooperation, according to the Chinese official. Finally, Mr Gu, eager to give the floor to the rest of his fellow panelists, he closed with a brilliant phrase taken from Confucius, the famous Chinese ancient philosopher: “Do not worry that your opinion has not been heard; do worry if you have not heard the others’ opinions”.
EU’s role at 16+1 cooperation
The EU was represented in this fruitful panel by Mr Olivier Onidi, Director of DG Mobility and Transport at the European Commission. The Commission’s top official opened his speech by saying that China-EU transport and infrastructure cooperation is not only of economic but also of geopolitical interest. He further underlined that the new connectivity platform is an additional tool for the China-EU cooperation, since no meticulous exchange of information is needed and optimal decisions are made based on best practices. Like this the conditions of investment, he added, are improved by raising barriers and expanding the cooperation in technology, infrastructure and transport. Mr Onidi was adamant in his belief that the China-EU investment cooperation platform will be a major source of business opportunities in EU and China and will create equal opportunities of growth through the whole one belt one road route.
“The hub of China-EU trade”
It was then time for probably the best example of CEEC, Poland to lead the discussion. Mr Slawomir Majman, President of Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency, embarked on sharing his interesting thoughts about one country that is able to design an deploy an effective investment strategy in order to to bring it to the creme de la creme of investment destinations in the EU, Poland. As expected, Mr Majman initiated his speech by stating that Poland has a crucial role on CEE, the most rapidly developing region in the EU. Most interestingly he continued praising the importance of the “One belt one road” strategy, by commenting that from a unilateral diplomacy there has been a transition to a multilateral diplomacy. Moreover, he did not hesitate to describe it as a “Chinese Marshall Plan”, as China’s presence along the silk road enable the full potential of its export markets. Focusing on the logistic dimension of what One Belt One Road means for Poland, Mr Majman said that “Poland aspires to be the hub of China-EU trade”.
The Polish official later praised how China has a long term vision towards Europe. On the other hand, Poland is willing to see “large and bold projects of Chinese capital”, Mr Majman underscored. He further critically cited that the “atmosphere is good” but there is just 0,02% Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the EU. He reassured the audience, however, that “politicians do their job properly”; it is businesses who lag behind. Again, China according to Mr Majman is doing very well building export markets along the silk road and thus boost the trade capacities of the second biggest economy in the world. He finally concluded his thoughts on the matter by stressing that “the future of cooperation of this part of the world with China (CEEC) is a regional one”.
China & Hungary
It was the turn of another important CEEC country then, Hungary, to highlight the important trade and investment ties it maintains with China. The Hungarian panelist was HE Ambassador of the Permanent Representation of Hungary to EU, Mr Harry Alex Rusz. The Hungarian Ambassador, agreeing fully with HE Ambassador Yang‘s of the Chinese Mission to EU opening remarks, and talked very enthusiastically about the 16+1 CEEC cooperation and economic development framework. He later said that Hungary has seen its economy catching up thanks to Chinese tourism and also thanks to the bilateral comprehensive financial cooperation.
500 million dollar Chinese Investment
Finally, the audience was pleasantly surprised to see that there is an independent China-CEE Investment Cooperation Fund created, which is taking care only the Chinese investment deployment for the 16 country region. Mrs Wei Li, Operations Director, took soon the floor and launched an engaging presentation with hard data on specific investment projects in the CEE region. It was very encouraging to see the status of every investment project clearly defined and described, from the Investment bank accountable to the yearly investment flow planning.
The major takeaway
All in all, the panel on China and CEEC (16+1) cooperation was definitely one of the most stimulating ones during the China-Europe Investment & Connectivity Cooperation Forum. The quality of the dialogue remained high and fruitful. It is very positive to see how China is extending and focusing at the same time its One belt One road strategy to specific blocks. CEE is a particular case that seems very positive to accommodate considerable chunks of large investment from China.
If only more neighbouring CEE countries with significant geopolitical power and certainly rich natural resources, like Greece, could join CEE immediately. That would contribute substantially both to the recovery of the demolished Greek economy and certainly it would do miracles to the smooth distribution of Chinese investment in Greece.