China is contemplating a fresh investment drive into Central and Eastern Europe to place its relations with Europe on a firmer footing.
Premier Li Keqiang, in Slovenia on the first visit of a Chinese premier to a Balkan country in 28 years, offered cooperation opportunities in infrastructure, finance and energy, as he talked one-on-one with some of the government leaders and senior officials from the 16 Central and Eastern European countries on Dec 16.
“China is willing to take part in developing the port of Koper, in Slovenia, as well as other infrastructure and nuclear energy upgrading projects in the country, with our advantage in high cost-efficiency,” Li said during his meeting with Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar in Belgrade.
Cerar said Slovenia would like to transform the port of Koper, located in the northern part of the Adriatic Sea, connecting markets of Central and Southeast Europe with the Mediterranean, into the gateway of Chinese commodities into Europe and to expand Slovenia’s exports to China.
Li’s meetings with other leaders in the region, from Latvia, Montenegro, the Czech Republic, Bosnia, Romania and Slovakia, featured a similar message, in which both sides proposed more transportation and energy cooperation.
As Li met Vjekoslav Bevanda, chairman of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Bosnia official said his government is seeking more projects for highways, rail lines and agriculture with China.
During the meeting with Latvia Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma, both sides agreed to push forward the negotiation of a China-EU investment treaty when the northeast European country is due to chair the European Union next year.
Li arrived in Belgrade late on Dec 15 to start a four-day visit to the country to attend the third leaders’ meeting of China and Central and Eastern European countries and address an economic forum with Chinese and Central and Eastern European business leaders on Dec 16.
He is scheduled to meet the other regional leaders on Dec 17.
Ruan Zongze, vice-president of the China Institute of International Studies, said the Balkan region, as well as Central and Eastern Europe as a whole, has significant geographic importance in China’s aim to revive the ancient Silk Road, which will tighten their ties with China as the initiative moves forward.
In a written interview with local media, Li said China will propose a package of financial cooperation to boost business investment.
At last year’s meeting in Budapest, China set up a special credit line of $10 billion to promote economic cooperation and trade between China and Central and Eastern European countries.
Li said 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.
China’s trade with the region could exceed $60 billion this year, up some $4.9 billion on 2013.
During his stay, Li is due to open a Chinese-built bridge in Belgrade across the River Danube. The project is China’s first big infrastructure investment on the European continent and the first stage of a larger project, which also includes a 21-kilometer road leading to the bridge.
Aleksandra Stanarevic with Serbia’s Chamber of Commerce said the Chinese bridge is an “example of successful cooperation, which is important to encourage other Chinese companies to follow”.
Shada Islam, policy director of think tank Friends of Europe, said that EU member states — small and big — should seek stronger bilateral ties with Beijing.
Nirj Deva, chairman of the EU China Friendship Group within the European Parliament, said the 2008 economic crisis has highlighted the potential dangers of the economic ties between Western Europe and the Central and Eastern European countries, as many countries in the region are seeking diversified investors.