What drives China to Central and Eastern Europe: Interview with PM Li Keqiang

What follows it the written interview for Central and Eastern European Countries with Chinese PM Li Keqiang amid China-CEE meeting in Belgrade. Slovakia’s Pravda, I am working for, was the part of the project, for a shortened interview in Slovak see here.

Part I China-CEEC Cooperation

1. 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$10 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$60 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 16 December, 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.

 2. 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.

3. 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$2 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-Europe land-sea express line on the basis of the Belgrade-Budapest Railway and the Greek port of Piraeus will 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.

4. 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 of China-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.

Part II China’s Cooperation with Central and Eastern European Countries

Poland

What is the significance of “16+1 cooperation” to China’s cooperation with new EU members like Poland?

For China, there is no old or new Europe. What we see with Europe is only friendship and cooperation. We will not forget that Poland was one of the first countries to enter into diplomatic ties with New China, and also one of the first in Central and Eastern Europe to establish a strategic partnership with China. It was in Warsaw in April 2012 that China and Poland together put in place the first meeting of heads of government of China and CEECs, opening a new chapter in the traditional friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation between China and CEECs.

China-CEEC cooperation has offered a new opportunity for us to take China-Poland relations onto the fast track of all-around development, producing more concrete results in bilateral practical cooperation. Almost all the international freight trains between China and Europe, the operation of which is getting increasingly active, go through the Polish territory, making Poland a more and more important logistics hub for China and CEECs. Soon after its launch, the China-CEEC Investment Cooperation Fund has made successful investment in several new energy projects in Poland. And this is just the beginning. The companies and institutions of higher learning of our two countries are now working together to develop the first pure-electric public transport system in the city of Wroclaw. Similar cooperation projects in green and emerging industries have received strong support from both governments. It must be pointed out that the executive body of the China-CEEC Business Council, an important platform under the China-CEEC cooperation framework, will soon be opened in Warsaw, which will greatly boost communication and cooperation between our businesses and deliver solid and substantial progress in the cooperation between the 17 countries.

Lithuania

What is the role of “16+1 cooperation” in strengthening the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and the EU?

As part of overall China-Europe relations, China-CEEC cooperation has added new impetus to the traditional friendship between China and the 16 countries, opened a new platform for expanding mutually beneficial cooperation, and provided a new engine driving China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership in all respects. Just as development is imbalanced between the eastern and western regions of China, there also exist imbalances between Central and Eastern and other parts of Europe. China’s cooperation with CEECs will help secure more balanced growth of the overall China-Europe cooperation and has much potential to be tapped.

In pursuing China-CEEC cooperation, we have observed the principles of openness and transparency. We welcome the representatives of EU institutions to attend the upcoming China-CEEC leaders’ meeting in Belgrade. We congratulate Lithuania who will officially join the Eurozone in January next year. We believe it will bring new development opportunity to bilateral relations and to cooperation between multiple parties as well

Latvia

Latvia has a major interest in becoming a hub for Asia-Europe transport and logistics cooperation through its participation in China-CEEC cooperation. What does China have to suggest in this regard?

We have an old saying in China, “building roads is the first step towards prosperity”. Connectivity is indispensable for deeper “16+1” cooperation. Latvia, with its geographical advantages, ports and other infrastructure facilities, is uniquely positioned to enhance transport connectivity between Asia and Europe. The Riga high-level conference on transport and logistics serves as a useful platform for promoting such cooperation. Our two sides may seize such opportunities as the “Silk Road Economic Belt”, meetings of heads of government of China and CEECs and the China-Europe freight train network to explore cooperation in developing regional logistics services, establishing distribution or transshipment centers and other areas, with a view to building a new northern logistics route between China and Europe. Chinese companies have strengths in capital and technologies and rich experience. The Chinese government will encourage them to participate in the construction of railways, ports and other infrastructure facilities in Latvia and neighboring countries through appropriate means.

Latvia will assume the EU presidency in the first half of next year, which we believe will bring more opportunities to China-Europe and China-Latvia cooperation in transport and logistics, especially to the implementation of the initiatives under the framework of China-CEEC cooperation and Asia-Europe cooperation. Not long ago, at the ASEM Summit in Milan, I announced that China will host an Asia-Europe dialogue on connectivity next year. We welcome Latvia’s active participation in the event.

Estonia

Unlike other CEECs’ relations with China, Estonia-China relations experienced some political setback in recent years, which has affected the development of closer business ties. The two countries overcame these difficulties last September, yet the Chinese market is still closed to Estonian products. May I ask whether Estonian companies and products are welcome in China?

The door of the Chinese market is open to Estonian products. According to our statistics, China-Estonia trade registered continued growth in 2011 and 2012, and in 2013, Estonian exports to China expanded by almost 50%. This shows that China-Estonia trade is moving towards greater balance.

China-Estonia relations are now at a new starting point. The deepening of China-EU relations and robust China-CEEC cooperation have created new opportunities for and added new impetus to the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Estonia. Estonia’s specialty and high-quality dairy and aquatic products may well aim at China’s medium and high-end consumer market. China will encourage and support its companies to buy more specialty products from Estonia. China’s agricultural and quality inspection departments are advancing the inspection and quarantine procedures for agricultural products of Estonia. We hope that Estonian industrial organizations and companies will make full use of the bilateral mechanisms and the platform of cooperation between multiple parties to better promote themselves and build the brand name of Estonia’s competitive products in the Chinese market.

Bulgaria

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.

Hungary

Hungary places high priority on China-CEEC cooperation. Hungary, China and Serbia have jointly announced the effort to build the railway connecting Budapest and Belgrade, a project that has attracted much attention. What is the significance of the project? The executive body for the China-CEEC Association of Tourism Promotion Agencies and Businesses has been set up in Hungary. What specific steps will it take to advance tourism cooperation among the countries?

The Budapest-Belgrade railway is the first transnational infrastructure project under the China-CEEC cooperation framework and carries high implication for boosting regional connectivity. On the basis of this railway line, China is exploring with Hungary and other interested countries the construction of a China-Europe land-sea express line. The Budapest-Belgrade railway and express line will greatly boost the logistics in countries along the routes, enable easier interflow of personnel, goods, capital, technology and business, stimulate the regional economy and benefit the countries and people along the routes. By then, Hungary’s geographical advantage will become even more prominent, as it will serve as a key bridge of connectivity between China and Europe.

Countries in Central and Eastern Europe, blessed with rich tourism resources and cultural heritage, are popular destinations for tourists globally. It is estimated that in the coming five years, more than 500 million Chinese will travel abroad. Most CEECs are approved destinations for Chinese tourists. Hence, there is a bright prospect for our tourism cooperation. The establishment of the China-CEEC Tourism Coordination Center is a significant step in promoting tourism cooperation among countries concerned. Hungary, which hosts the Coordination Center, has an important leading role to play. Next year has been designated the Year of China-CEEC Tourism Cooperation, and Hungary has put forward a number of ideas such as the “China Tourism Day”. China will actively support those ideas, and will work with all CEECs to make tourism a new bright spot of China-CEEC cooperation.

Romania

China and Romania have carried out productive practical cooperation under the framework of China-CEEC cooperation, in particular, in the area of energy. The China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) will develop new units for the Cernavodă Nuclear Power Plant. Are there other Chinese companies interested in participating in energy projects in Romania?

Last year, the second China-CEEC Heads of Government Meeting was successfully held in Romania, a milestone in the process of China-CEEC cooperation. The Bucharest Guidelines for Cooperation issued at the meeting laid out a comprehensive plan, identifying the priority cooperation areas and projects. Over the past year, the Guidelines have been smoothly implemented. Under this framework, China-Romania practical cooperation has developed vibrantly with important breakthroughs made in particular in the energy sector including nuclear power, hydropower and coal-fired power.

China’s nuclear technology develops rapidly, and features safe and stable operation, rich construction experience, and the biggest nuclear power capacity under construction. Since 2013, the Chinese and Romanian governments and businesses have signed a series of documents on nuclear power cooperation, which have laid a solid legal foundation for the furtherance of cooperation. CGN has won the bid for units 3 and 4 of the Cernavodă Nuclear Power Plant. Companies of both sides need to intensify efforts and complete the preparations for construction as quickly as possible.

Chinese enterprises are taking an active part in projects such as the Rovinari power station, the Mintia-Deva power plant, and the Tarniţa hydropower plant. China will share experience and enhance exchanges with Romania to further advance practical cooperation in energy and achieve win-win results.

Slovakia

Does China plan to increase investment in Slovakia? How will Slovakia attract more direct investment from China?

Slovakia is an important trade and investment partner of China in Central and Eastern Europe. It has been China’s fourth largest trading partner in the region since 2011, leading CEEC countries in terms of exports to and trade surplus with China. China and Slovakia enjoy strong economic complementarity, hence a broad prospect for deeper practical cooperation. In 2014, CSR Corporation and CASIC Hiwing Aviation General Equipment started operations in Slovakia and are planning to invest another €110 million, which will create more than one thousand jobs for the local community.

China will continue to encourage capable enterprises to invest in Slovakia and hopes that Slovakia will continue to provide a sound policy and business environment for Chinese companies and offer more convenience for Chinese businessmen. Moreover, we welcome more business promotions from Slovakia through commodity fairs and investment matchmaking so that investment and trade cooperation between our two countries can be expanded.

Czech Republic

What expectations does China have for Sino-Czech investment cooperation under the China-CEECs framework? Does China plan to participate in the Czech Republic’s nuclear power projects?

China-CEEC cooperation has provided an important platform for cooperation between China and the Czech Republic. Last August, the China-CEEC Local Leaders’ Meeting and the China Investment Forum were successfully held in the Czech Republic, during which cooperation agreements worth over US$2 billion were signed. China and the Czech Republic enjoy high economic complementarity and broad prospects of cooperation. As the bilateral ties grow, their trade and investment cooperation will achieve more substantive results.

Nuclear energy cooperation between China and the Czech Republic holds great potential. Thanks to rich experience in project construction and sustained R&D input, Chinese nuclear power companies have over the years built strong capability in technical design and equipment manufacturing and accumulated a wealth of experience in project management. The Czech Republic has its own needs in these areas. Recently, our two countries have signed an MOU on civil nuclear energy cooperation, which lays an important foundation for our enhanced cooperation in this area. China stands ready to work with the Czech Republic to make new progress in nuclear energy development, including nuclear safety technologies and new power units development.

Albania

This year marks the 65th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Albania as well as some other countries in this region. Will this historical bond between China and CEECs help facilitate economic cooperation between the two countries across the board?

We Chinese often say, “Friends are like wine, the older, the better.” Albania and most of the countries in Central and Eastern Europe established diplomatic relations with China in the early days of the founding of the People’s Republic, which gave us invaluable support. We have always cherished such profound friendship. Today, many people in China still remember the historical contribution Albania made to the restoration of China’s lawful seat at the United Nations. Images of the brave female soldiers in the movie “Horizonte tё hapura” and the smart navy striped shirts in the movie “Oshёtime nё bregdet” all left a lasting imprint on the mind of a whole generation of the Chinese people.

The profound traditional friendship and sound political mutual trust have laid a solid foundation for further cooperation between China and Albania as well as other CEECs. To produce more tangible results through the mutually beneficial cooperation across the board has been the shared aspiration of people in both China and CEECs. It is also the best way to carry forward our traditional friendship. The launch and development of the China-CEEC cooperation platform adds a new dimension to China-CEECs relations and injects a strong impetus to our bilateral cooperation. Both China and Albania are working to seize this historic opportunity to actively advance the practical cooperation in transportation and energy. The Belgrade meeting will outline a more detailed blueprint for our future cooperation and open even wider the door to win-win cooperation. We are ready to work with Albania to build on the momentum and make new progress in China-CEEC cooperation and the cooperation between China and Albania.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

What does Bosnia and Herzegovina mean to China? Does China see any specific area of investment in the country, such as energy, military industry or agriculture?

For me,when I think of Bosnia and Herzegovina, I think of the film Walter Defends Sarajevo, which was extremely popular in China and gave the Chinese people a glimpse of this beautiful country.

Today, Bosnia and Herzegovina has become China’s good friend and good partner in Central and Eastern Europe. The rapid growth of our bilateral relations has laid down a solid political foundation for our pragmatic cooperation. The Stanari thermal power plant was the first project built under the US$10 billion special credit line in China-CEEC cooperation. This year, Chinese enterprises won the bids for unit 7 of Tuzla thermal power plant and the combined heat and power plant in Zenica. We are happy with the ongoing cooperation and are full of expectations for what’s to come in the future.

Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between our two countries. China is ready to seize the opportunity and work with Bosnia and Herzegovina to fully tap into the potential of our pragmatic cooperation and expand cooperation areas through closer exchanges, so as to lift our bilateral ties to a new height in a more active and steady manner.

Montenegro

How do you comment on the current China-Montenegro cooperation? Will the construction of the Bar-Boljare Highway represent a starting point for closer economic ties between the two countries?

China values its relationship with Montenegro. Although diplomatic ties were established just eight years ago, our practical cooperation in various areas has grown robustly with a strong momentum.

This year, in particular, has witnessed leapfrog development in our business cooperation. Bilateral trade volume from January to October amounted to US$180 million, registering a 100% increase year on year and surpassing last year’s total. Moreover, China’s imports from Montenegro increased by nearly 200%, a testimony to the growing popularity of Montenegrin products in China, and more importantly to the bright prospect of our business cooperation. Our cooperation on major projects, including on road, railway and power station, is progressing steadily. Bilateral cooperation in tourism as well as cultural and people-to-people exchanges are also thriving. China and Montenegro are embracing a period of dynamic and robust cooperation, in which I have full confidence.

The Bar-Boljare Highway, the project with the largest input under the US$10 billion special credit line for China-CEEC cooperation, will soon be launched. The project is just a beginning, and it stands as an epitome of our cooperation. As the saying goes, well begun is half done. We see the huge potential and bright prospects of China-Montenegro cooperation. We hope this highway will serve as a road of friendship and cooperation between China and Montenegro, which will lead us to a better future of bilateral cooperation.

Croatia

Are you happy with the current state of economic cooperation between Croatia and China? What areas can the two countries cooperate in? Will the Port of Rijeka and Croatias railways and highways connecting Southeast Europe be included in China’s initiative of the Silk Road Economic Belt?

Croatia is an important economic and trade partner of China in Central and Eastern Europe. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations more than 20 years ago, our cooperation, which started from scratch, has grown from strength to strength and achieved significant progress. That said, we also need to see that China-Croatia economic and trade cooperation, now limited in scale, has yet to live up to its full potential.

Croatia enjoys distinct geographical advantages with easy access of transportation. Our two sides have much to do in cooperation in ports, transport and logistics. We welcome a constructive role of Croatia in the building of the Silk Road Economic Belt. Croatia is known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic”, while China is a major country for tourism consumption. Tourism may well be a new growth area in our bilateral cooperation.

Croatia, a country good at innovation, has contributed to the progress of human civilization with the inventions such as necktie and pen. The great Croatian physicist Nikola Tesla also made numerous inventions and innovations in his life. We are ready to work with Croatia in the coming year, when we will mark the 10th anniversary of our comprehensive cooperative partnership, to explore new cooperation models and ideas and work for more fruitful results in our cooperation.

Macedonia

China has already had some economic presence in Macedonia. In what other areas does China wish to cooperate with Macedonia under the 16+1 cooperation framework?

Infrastructure cooperation is an important pillar in China-Macedonia economic and trade cooperation. China is working with countries in the region to build a new connectivity landscape. Macedonia hopes that the Belgrade-Budapest railway will extend to Macedonia, which will make Macedonia an important link in regional connectivity and bring new opportunity to closer China-Macedonia cooperation in railways, roads and other areas. We may build on what has been achieved, actively explore multiple forms of investment and financing and identify new projects that serve the common interests of both countries.

Macedonia has a traditional advantage in agriculture. Its lamb, wine and other products are of outstanding quality. China has a broad market with huge growth potential. We welcome the high-quality farm and sideline products from Macedonia to enter the Chinese market, where I believe Macedonian products will have a great potential of success.

Macedonia’s ever-improving investment environment could become an important window for Chinese enterprises to enter Europe. China supports its enterprises in investing and doing business in Macedonia. Looking ahead, we need to make good use of existing platforms, encourage interactions between our business communities to enhance mutual understanding, and bring out the initiative of enterprises to inject new impetus to the economic and trade cooperation between China and Macedonia.

Serbia

The Mihajlo Pupin Bridge is the first large infrastructure project undertaken by Chinese companies in the region. After the completion of the bridge, in what other fields will Serbia receive Chinese investment?

Serbia is China’s all-weather friend in Europe. As early as in the 1950s, China and the former Yugoslavia established diplomatic ties, and friendship has since taken root in the hearts of the Chinese and Serbian people. In the early days of its reform and opening-up endeavor, China gained much useful experience from the former Yugoslavia, which helped China in its endeavor to find, in light of its own national conditions, the path of building socialism with Chinese characteristics.

Today, China and Serbia are each other’s perfect partners for mutual benefit. Over the past five years since the establishment of the China-Serbia strategic partnership, our bilateral cooperation has entered the fast track. I am happy to have the opportunity to attend the completion ceremony of the Mihajlo Pupin Bridge with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic during my visit to Serbia. I believe that this bridge embodying China-Serbia friendship will serve to facilitate Serbia’s economic and social development. Besides, other China-Serbia cooperation projects such as the Kostolac Power Plant Phase-Ι and the E763 Express Way are all well under way, and indeed represent remarkable work in the Balkan region and even the entire Central and Eastern Europe.

The Third Meeting of Heads of Government of China and Central and Eastern European Countries will soon be held in Belgrade. During the meeting, I will work with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister Viktor Orban to push for substantive advances in the Belgrade-Budapest railway project. Based on this railway, China plans to work with relevant countries to build the China-Europe land-sea express line. Once completed, this express line will greatly strengthen the logistic capacity of countries along it, boosting regional economic growth and benefiting countries and people along the way. By then, Serbia will enjoy a more prominent geographical advantage and serve as an important bridge for connectivity between China and Europe.

The China-Serbia relationship is like a high-speed train, forging ahead and loaded with the aspiration of our two peoples for an even better life. I have every reason to believe that this train of shared dream will run even more steadily, faster and farther. Our common development strategies are the guideposts in steering the course, and our complementary strength and pursuit of mutual benefit are the locomotive that provides the power. Our profound traditional friendship could constitute the solid roadbed in enhancing the foundation. We have built the Chinese bridge, and in the future, we will build the Chinese road and Chinese power plant to provide inexhaustible driving force for the growth of China-Serbia relations.

Slovenia

In recent years, while many Central and Eastern European countries are relocating manufacturing and other industries to China where labor cost is lower, China is steadily increasing investment in this region. What economic benefits does China expect from such investment?

Two-way investment between China and CEECs is mutually complementary in nature and aims at win-win outcomes and common development. It meets the aspirations and serves the interests of both sides. Slovenian companies have invested and opened plants in Shanghai, the Suzhou Industrial Park and other places in China, producing good economic results. They have thus set an example for companies from other countries in the region to make investment in China. At the same time, CEECs are significantly more keen to attract foreign investment. They have all identified their key investment areas as improving transport infrastructure, enhancing power and energy development, and promoting information technology and the communications sector. China happens to have an edge in these areas in terms of technology, cost-effectiveness and financial resources. Our economies are cut out for each other for closer cooperation. Slovenia and other countries in the region enjoy such advantages as good location, sound investment climate, attractive incentives for foreign investment, skilled workforce, strong industrial foundation and well-developed legal framework. We believe that investment in this region can be guaranteed and bring real benefits to the people of our two sides. The successful acquisition of Slovenia’s TAM-DuraBus by China Hi-Tech Group Corporation is just a case in point. China will continue to encourage more well-established and reputable companies to invest in Slovenia and other CEECs with a view to promoting comprehensive and balanced growth of business cooperation between China and Europe.

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