WARSAW — This is encouraging. The Smederevo Steel Mill, a plant of Serbian national pride, finally started to make profit by the end of 2016 after a seven-year loss. It happened only eight months after Chinese Hesteel Group poured investment therein, vowing to make it one of the most competitive in Europe.
It comes as one example in a larger picture where China and 16 Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) have quickened their economic exchange under the “16+1” cooperation format in realizing goals of the Belt and Road Initiative that is intended to improve infrastructure and trade between China and Europe and Africa.
Also in Serbia, the first phrase of Expressway E763, built by a Chinese company, is expected to complete by the end of the year.
Another upbeat story like the one in Serbia was also told in Poland when China’s Liugong Group, five years after acquiring the machinery unit of Poland’s Huta Stalowa Wola (HSW), remade it into a profitable joint venture that has paid taxes and dues for about 68 million U.S. dollars during past four years while creating jobs.
China’s Hongbo Group invested 100 million U.S. dollars to build a LED lamp factory in that country.
In the Czech Republic, you may have to make an appointment until half a year later in a traditional Chinese medicine hospital that is keenly sought after among locals.
According to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, in 2016, total trade between China and the 16 CEEC increased by 9.5 percent, marking a remarkable boost while China’s trade with Europe and the world as a whole dipped in the same period.
It makes the “16+1” cooperation a model for the Belt and Road Initiative and China-Europe ties.
Proposed by President Xi Jinping in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa on and beyond the ancient Silk Road routes. It comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
The China-CEEC cooperation is gaining momentum, tapping the huge market potential in an area home to many emerging economies.
China General Nuclear Power Corporation is negotiating to build two additional nuclear power units in Cernavoda in southeast Romania. The 7-billion-Euro or 8.3-billion-dollar project will be the largest one so far between China and CEEC.
The Hungary-Serbia high-speed railway, a flagship project for regional inter-connectivity, is also on the agenda.
Zivadin Jovanovic, a Serbian expert on international affairs, told Xinhua, “Serbia and China will expand cooperation in infrastructure building, manufacturing, food processing and other sectors.”
Wang Yiwei, an expert on Europe with Renmin University of China, said that the building of the Belt and Road could improve the “16+1” format which was launched in Warsaw in 2012.
“The format serves a framework that we can realize the win-win scenario for China and the European Union,” Wang said.
Czech President Milos Zeman said that efforts to push forward the Belt and Road Initiative within the framework of the “16+1” format will bring more opportunities to this region.
The China-CEEC cooperation comes with reciprocity. Chinese investment in CEEC is now over $9 billion while CEEC invested $1.4 billion in China.
In the first three quarters of this year, the China-CEEC trade exceeded 49 billion dollars, marking an increase of 14.5 percent year-on-year while China’s imports from CEEC rose 21.9 percent.
The increasing demand from China means a huge market for CEEC manufacturers. A Chinese company which bought in Lobkowicz Brewery Group in the Czech Republic not only helped preserve its traditional brewery skills, but also hopefully brought the prestigious Czech beer to Chinese groceries through China-Europe regular freight trains.
The CEEC along the China-Europe railway connect the Asian and European continents and make up nearly one fourth of the countries along the Belt and Road.
Jan Kohout, advisor to the Czech president, said the Belt and Road Initiative is one of the highlights of China’s foreign policies, playing an important role in European and Asian development.
“China and CEEC are making headway, building a community of shared future with practical actions,” Wang said.