Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (C), Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma (R) and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic attend a press conference after the 4th Summit of China and Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, in Suzhou, east China's Jiangsu Province, Nov. 24, 2015. (Photo: Xinhua/Gao Jie)
China and 16 Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries on Tuesday identified priority areas for cooperation from 2015 to 2020, ranging from infrastructure, finance, agriculture to culture, in a latest effort to make their cooperation develop in an all-round way.[Special coverage]
The priority areas were set out in a medium-term agenda released after the fourth China-CEE summit, which gathered Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and leaders from 16 CEE countries in east China's Suzhou city.
Despite traditional friendly ties, China and CEE countries scored a fast growing yet moderate trade volume of some 60 billion U.S. dollars in 2014, accounting for one tenth of the volume between China and all the European countries.
"Faced with sluggish global trade and economy, China and CEE countries have maintained good momentum on practical cooperation, witnessing rapidly growing trade,investment and major cooperation projects underway," Li voiced confidence in bilateral economic ties at an economic and trade forum between China and CEE countries.
Chinese and CEE countries leaders agreed to link China's Belt and Road Initiative with development strategies of CEE nations, taking advantage of China's strength in infrastructure construction and finance and meeting CEE countries' own needs for better infrastructures and connectivity. Both sides are eyeing a series of flagship projects.
On the sidelines of the summit, China signed separate deals with Hungary and Serbia on construction and revamping of a rail link between the Serbian and Hungarian capitals. Premier Li said construction of the railway will begin within this year, and that the train link, which will cut travel time between Belgrade and Budapest by more than half, will be finished in two years.
Railway is only one of the many aspects that China and CEE countries aim to cooperate in. China has said it is willing to invest in port projects in CEE countries, citing its rich experiences in port design and equipment manufacturing, because China started its reform and opening-up drive in coastal areas.
The leaders discussed the China's initiative to promote cooperation among port areas in the Baltic Sea, the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea and make ports with favored conditions become a habitat for various industries. China also expressed willingness to participate in Slovenia's Port of Koper renovation.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said that the ambitious Belt and Road Initiative will bring benefits to both China and CEE countries.
Infrastructure construction will offer more cooperation opportunities between Poland and China, as Central and Eastern European countries are the only way traveling from China to Europe, Duda said, adding that Poland, as Eurasia's logistics center, is vital in promoting China-European trade.
Premier Li said China will also work with parties involved to promote building of the China-Europe land-sea express passage, which will help strengthen connectivity and scale up trade between China and European countries.
Li said that financing is the short plank of China-CEE cooperation, adding that China will support large projects in a flexible way.
China and the CEE countries will explore opportunities to bring into full play the role of the 10-billion-U.S. dollar special credit line, to create a 3-billion-U.S. dollar investment fund and to establish a RMB fund in support of 16+1 cooperation. Cooperation in currency swaps, local currency settlement and financial regulation are encouraged. China and the CEE will also discuss the possibility of establishing a financial company.
"In capacity cooperation, as long as CEE countries use products and equipment made by China, China will provide financing support," the premier said.
Li reassured the leaders that the Chinese economy is resilient with huge market potential and will maintain sustainable growth with ongoing structural reforms.
Agriculture is expected to be a new highlight in China-CEE trade.China will increase import of competitive farm produce from CEE countries and enhance quarantine with them, Li said.
The leaders supported language teaching in each other's country or countries and boosting tourism and traveling. They welcomed more civil aviation cooperation between China and CEE countries after the relaunch of direct flights between Beijing and Budapest and the launch of direct flights between Beijing and Prague in addition to existing Beijing-Warsaw connection.
China is a long-term partner for Europe and its cooperation with CEE countries is win-win cooperation. By enhancing trade and investment in CEE countries, China is also helping the recovery of the European economy, Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orban said.
Established as an annual event in Warsaw in 2012, and subsequently staged in Bucharest and Belgrade, China-CEE summit has been regarded as supplementary to China's cooperation with the European Union.
Representatives of other parties, including the EU, Austria and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, were invited to the summit in Suzhou as observers.
"China's cooperation with CEE countries have gradually gained recognition from the EU and defused their suspicion, because it has promoted the balanced development of EU members and the integration of Europe, " Kong Tianping, a researcher with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said.