China signed five cooperation documents related to the Belt and Road initiative with five central and eastern European (CEE) countries on Thursday, making a leap forward in synergizing its development plan with those of of CEE countries. [Special coverage]
Chinese President Xi Jinping, together with five leaders from Poland, Serbia, Czech, Bulgaria and Slovakia, witnessed the signing of five MoUs on jointly promoting the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative.
The Belt and Road Initiative, proposed by President Xi in 2013, is aimed at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes.
China expects the participation of CEE countries in the development of the connectivity-based Belt and Road Initiative, Xi said while meeting with leaders from 16 CEE countries, who just attended an economic and trade forum in east China's Suzhou City.
Considering its geographic importance, central and eastern Europe marks an essential part in China's Belt and Road Initiative as a quarter of the countries along the routes are located in the region.
In June, China and Hungary inked a memorandum of understanding on promoting the initiative, the first such document China has signed with a European country.
"One of the priorities of the 16+1 cooperation is to strengthen regional transport infrastructure in synergy with the Belt and Road initiative," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told the economic and trade forum on Tuesday.
The CEE region now faces the task to upgrade its transportation, electricity and other infrastructure as well as industrial equipment, while China is strong in construction capacity and supporting services and can meet the environmental standard of CEE countries, said Chen Xin, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Premier Li promised to leaders of the CEE countries that when Chinese equipment and products are used, China is ready to provide preferential financing support.
The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the Silk Road Fund and other financial institutions may also provide support to the cooperation projects between China and the CEE countries, said Li.
The MoUs signed today showed the determination of China and the five CEE countries to synergize their development strategies to better facilitate major cooperative projects, said Chen.p Major cooperation projects between China and the CEE countries are moving ahead steadily. The Belgrade bridge over the Danube has been completed and opened to traffic, marking the completion of the first major project undertaken by China in CEE countries.
China will make every effort to advance the flagship project of the Budapest-Belgrade railway link and make sure that construction will start within the year and will end in two years' time, said Premier Li.
Upon its completion, the railway will help create a fast lane for trade between China and Europe.
China would also like to push forward the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Line with the relevant parties on a win-win basis so that the CEE region will be able to facilitate rapid transit of trade between China and Europe, he said.
"China is ready to invest in ports and port zone development in CEE countries to enhance land and sea links," said Li.
Polish President Andrzej Duda and other leaders of CEE countries pointed out the "16+1" mechanism has set up a new platform for both parties which are experiencing economic transformation.
CEE countries are willing to participate in the development of the Belt and Road Initiative and look forward to more cooperation with China in infrastructure, industrial modernization, energy conservancy and environmental protection, transportation and logistics.
Accompanied by Premier Li, leaders of CEE countries experienced the "China speed" firsthand on Wednesday by boarding a China-made bullet train from Suzhou to Shanghai, which represents China's most cutting-edge high-speed rail technologies.
"The trip mirrors China-CEE cooperation - high speed, but comfortable and reassuring," Li told the European leaders.
"Aligning the 16+1 mechanism with the Belt and Road Initiative will provide new opportunities for China and the CEE countries to deepen cooperation in production capacity, transportation, infrastructure and finance, "said Cui Hongjian, a China-Europe relations specialist at the China Institute of International Studies.
China and the CEE countries enjoy great potential for economic and trade cooperation under the lead of the 16+1 mechanism, especially given the background of China's promotion of the Belt and Road Initiative, said Kong Tianping, a researcher with Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.