This year marks the beginning of the second decade of cooperation between China and the Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC). Since 2012, the trade between China and CEEC has witnessed steady growth, with an average annual rate of 8.1 percent, while China’s imports from CEEC have experienced an average annual increase of 9.2 percent. In the first quarter of this year, the total two-way trade reached 33.3 billion U.S. dollars, showing a 1.6 percent yearly growth.
Over the course of eleven years, bilateral cooperation has made significant strides, especially under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This initiative has not only stimulated trade but has also revitalized economic growth and unlocked new possibilities throughout the region and beyond. The increased connectivity and cooperation facilitated by the BRI have played a pivotal role in fostering these positive developments.
Economic growth and development
For decades, commuters, merchants, and tourists faced inconveniences while crossing the border from Bosnia and Herzegovina to southern Croatia. However, the inauguration of the Peljesac Bridge in 2022 has eliminated the need for these exhausting journeys, making them a thing of the past.
As a significant project under the Belt and Road Initiative, the Peljesac Bridge has greatly improved Croatia’s infrastructure and connectivity. It links the Croatian mainland with the Peljesac Peninsula in the southernmost Dubrovnik-Neretva County, bypassing a short strip of land belonging to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This bridge not only grants Croatia better access to the region but also serves as a prominent symbol, enhancing the prospects of China-Croatia and China-Europe relations and cooperation.
Previously, reaching the medieval city of Dubrovnik, known as the “Pearl of the Adriatic,” required a lengthy and arduous journey. Now, thanks to the bridge, the strait can be crossed with ease, taking only a breezy three-minute drive. The benefits of enhanced connectivity extend beyond tourism. The smoother flow of trade has led to the creation of thousands of local jobs, positively impacting individuals, businesspeople, and entrepreneurs alike.
According to Davor Peric, the project manager at Croatian Roads, over 1.5 million vehicles have already utilized the new bridge. He stated, “The bridge was eagerly awaited by the local people and the Croatian people as a whole, with the primary goal of connecting the territory.” The Peljesac region, which had long been disconnected, has experienced growth as a result of the bridge. Economic activity has witnessed a recent increase, and it is anticipated that this part of Croatia will develop at a much faster pace, benefiting from the newly established roads and the bridge, added Peric.
The Hungarian-Serbian railway, a prominent project under the Belt and Road Initiative, is making steady progress in Hungary. This railway will connect the Hungarian capital, Budapest, with the Serbian capital, Belgrade. In 2015, Hungary became the first European country to sign a Belt and Road cooperation document with China, cementing its commitment to the initiative.
Erno Peto, the president of the Hungarian-Chinese Chamber of Economy, highlights that Hungary has emerged as a regional hub for finance, tourism, and logistics in Central and Eastern Europe for China over the past decade, thanks to the BRI.
Levente Horvath, the director of the Eurasia Center at John von Neumann University in Hungary, eagerly anticipates the completion of this project. He believes that once finished, the railway will bring significant benefits to the Hungarian people.
Chinese investments in Serbia have had a significant impact on the country’s economy, generating numerous job opportunities in sectors such as automobile parts, mining, steel, furniture, and others, as reported by the Development Agency of Serbia.
The launch of the Belgrade-Novi Sad section of the Belgrade-Budapest high-speed railway a year ago was a crucial milestone that propelled Serbia’s further development, according to Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.
In Greece, the collaboration between China’s COSCO Shipping and Piraeus, the largest port in the country, has served as an exemplary model of joint development over the course of 13 years. Antonis Apergis, superintendent of the engineering department at Piraeus Container Terminal S.A., emphasized the positive impact of the project, highlighting the creation of new jobs and the subsequent boost in employment within the surrounding area. He noted that the company’s contribution was particularly significant as it began during a challenging period for Greece.
Cooperation beneficial for both China and CEE countries
Petr Kovanik, the owner of a Prague-based chocolate company, expressed his enthusiasm for the immense customer base in China. Recognizing the Chinese people’s eagerness to access information about high-end and nutritious food, he sees significant market potential in China. He shared his observations during the China-CEEC expo at a newly constructed venue.
Similarly, numerous manufacturers, distributors, and industry insiders are optimistic about China’s expanding sales and investment opportunities, facilitated by enhanced logistics within the Belt and Road Initiative framework. Liakos Constantinos, the co-founder of Hellenic Agora Trading Ltd., a Greek wine importer and distributor in China, highlighted the impressive speed of the labeling process for imported wines and the efficient shipments made possible by China’s excellent logistics environment. Constantinos expressed confidence in the Chinese market, noting the close relationship between alcohol consumption and economic prosperity. He believes that as the Chinese economy continues to grow, so will their business.
Peter Lisicky, a Slovakian wine exporter, reported steady sales growth in China and expanded export channels despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. Lisicky perceives substantial market potential in China and anticipates a larger consumer base, potentially in central China.
In the past, the transportation of wine to Chinese port cities heavily relied on sea freight. However, with the advancement of the Belt and Road Initiative and the development of railway networks, an increasing number of wine traders are contemplating expanding their businesses to other regions within China.
Zdravko Marinkovic, the president of the Foreign Trade Chamber of Bosnia and Herzegovina, emphasized the vast potential for cooperation between Bosnia and Herzegovina, China, and other Central and Eastern European countries in areas such as energy, infrastructure, green economic transformation, and clean energy. He expressed a vision for more collaboration projects in the future.
Yu Yuantang, an official from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, highlighted the crucial role played by China and the CEE countries as key partners within the Belt and Road Initiative, emphasizing their significant contributions to the global industrial and supply chains. The strong economic complementarity, seamless connectivity, and dynamic two-way investments between these countries are notable.
Dawid Wiktor, the president of the Estonian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the significance of the Belt and Road Initiative in stimulating economic growth, generating employment opportunities, promoting innovation, facilitating regional integration, and fostering mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries.
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Zahari Zahariev, the chairman of Bulgaria National Association for the Belt and Road, emphasized the “enormous opportunities” for renewable energy cooperation with China, particularly in the field of photovoltaics. Zahariev believed that there is further potential for collaboration with China in public goods projects, including waste disposal, transportation, and medical care.
Regarding the current global economic landscape, the president of the Hungarian-Chinese Chamber of Economy, Peto, stressed the critical importance of China’s intention to increase imports from the CEE countries. Peto acknowledged that the benefits of the Belt and Road Initiative will not be handed to them effortlessly, and active collaboration among the CEE countries is necessary to achieve prosperity.
The cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries has brought numerous benefits to the economies and societies of the participating nations. The Belt and Road Initiative has facilitated enhanced connectivity, trade expansion, and investment opportunities, resulting in economic growth and job creation. Industries such as energy, infrastructure, green economic transformation, and clean energy have witnessed significant cooperation and development.
Additionally, the cooperation has fostered cultural exchange, knowledge sharing, and mutual understanding among the countries involved.
China Index comment: Cooperation mutually advantageous
The cooperation between China and CEE countries under the Belt and Road Initiative has proven to be mutually advantageous, yielding positive outcomes for economies and societies. The BRI has not only strengthened economic ties but also fostered deeper cultural exchange and collaboration. The increased connectivity and infrastructure development have opened up new avenues for trade, investment, and cooperation, contributing to economic growth, job creation, and technological advancements.
The ongoing collaboration between China and CEE countries serves as a testament to the potential benefits that can be achieved through international partnerships and regional integration.