“16+1” Cooperation injects new vigor into China-Europe cooperation

Ambassador Zhang Ming Ambassador of China to the EU

On 8 November 2017, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the European Union, presented credentials to President Donald Tusk of the European Council (Chinese Mission to EU, 2017)

This article was written for The Sting by HE Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU. The opinions expressed belong to the distinguished writer.

On 27 November 2017, the Sixth Summit of China and Central and Eastern European Countries was held in Budapest. The cooperation between China and the 16 CEE countries has grown from strength to strength and increasingly matured over the past five years, as marked by a number of early harvests in the areas of trade, investment, infrastructure, finance, education, tourism and people-to-people exchanges. “16+1” cooperation has delivered benefits to its members, and has become a highlight of China-Europe cooperation as a whole.

Since I arrived in Brussels, and in fact even before that, I have heard some concerns expressed about “16+1” cooperation. Some even misunderstood it as China’s “divide and rule” tactics against the EU. However, such concerns and misunderstanding are totally unfounded if one looks at why China chose to start “16+1” cooperation in the first place and how China has gone about it ever since. China is always a supporter of European integration. This position is clear-cut and consistent. To divide the EU is not in China’s interests. As Chinese President Xi Jinping put it, “16+1” cooperation is an important part of and useful complement to the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership, and can play a role in promoting the China-EU partnerships for peace, growth, reform and civilization.

“16+1” cooperation is transparent, open and inclusive. China welcomes the EU and other relevant parties to get actively involved. The EU has been invited to many activities under the “16+1” framework as an observer. China respects EU laws and regulations; likewise, it also by complying with EU laws and policies that EU member states have participated in “16+1” cooperation. China firmly supports the European integration process. What China wants to see is a united EU, a prosperous Europe, and a stable euro. In fact, China’s support is backed by concrete actions.

“16+1” cooperation and China-Europe cooperation are interconnected. The China-Europe cooperation provides a solid foundation for “16+1” cooperation. As China and Europe work together to synergize the Belt and Road Initiative and the Investment Plan for Europe as well as development strategies of European countries, CEE countries will play a more prominent role as a hub that connects Asia and Europe. Meanwhile, “16+1” cooperation could serve as a new engine of China-Europe cooperation. In promoting “16+1” cooperation, we are exploring new areas, approaches and practices in light of the industrial features and development needs of CEE countries. In doing so, China-Europe cooperation has been significantly broadened and deepened. Without “16+1” cooperation, China-Europe relations would not have been so productive and successful.

“16+1” cooperation is conducted on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. It benefits CEE countries by diversifying and complementing their existing trade routes and sources of investment and financing. It benefits all its members by promoting economic development and livelihoods through concrete projects. The past years have seen tangible outcomes of “16+1” cooperation, the Budapest-Belgrade railway, the 16+1 financial holding company, the 16+1 inter-bank consortium, to name just a few. The “16+1” cooperation also benefits the EU and Europe as a whole as faster development in CEE countries contributes to more balanced development across Europe and European integration.

I am confident that the Budapest Summit will produce even more fruitful results. “16+1” cooperation is a creative framework which enables countries in different regions and with different social systems to work together. It goes hand in hand with China-Europe cooperation and constantly injects new vigor into such cooperation. With that, China, CEE countries and the EU will become better off together.

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