Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (front) attends the Fifth Meeting of Heads of Government of Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) and China in Riga, Latvia, Nov. 5, 2016. (Xinhua/Rao Aimin)
China's relations with the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region at large are expected to grow in leaps and bounds, as a visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang to the region has injected fresh impetus into their already effective cooperation.
Li concluded his three-day visit to Latvia Sunday morning, where he also attended on Saturday a meeting between the heads of government of China and 16 CEE countries, also known as the 16+1 Summit.
Li and the CEE countries' leaders agreed to enhance pragmatic cooperation with China, and increase people-to-people exchanges to achieve mutual complementarity of advantages.
ENHANCEMENT OF PRAGMATIC COOPERATION
Pragmatic cooperation in trade, inter-connectivity, production capacity, finance, agriculture and forestry was highlighted by the leaders of China and the 16 CEE countries during the Riga summit.
On trade and investment, the participants gave encouragement to the progress in the ongoing EU-China negotiations over an ambitious and comprehensive investment agreement. They welcomed further cooperation on enhancing trade through e-commerce platforms and urged Chinese and CEE countries' businesses to promote exports and imports of their high-quality and characteristic products through e-commerce.
Trade volume between China and CEE countries reached 56.2 billion U.S. dollars in 2015, up 28 percent over 2010. Chinese investment in the 16 CEE countries exceeded 5 billion dollars, while CEE has invested more than 1.2 billion dollars in China.
To boost inter-connectivity, all sides supported the development of transport routes between Europe and Asia, including the development of the Europe-China international railway container traffic, the establishment of multi-modal logistic centers in CEE countries and throughout the whole Eurasian Land Bridge areas, and the improvement of the international supply chain and border crossing rules on the transport corridors.
"Each 16+1 summit has its own features and themes. Transportation and inter-connectivity, a focus of the Riga Summit, conform to the needs of regional development and 16+1 cooperation. It also showcases Latvia's advantage in geographic position," said Liu Zuokui, a research fellow on CEE countries with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
With regard to production capacity cooperation, China and CEE countries voiced willingness to strengthen the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Seaport Cooperation in the Riga Declaration issued after the summit.
They agreed to support development of industrial clusters in ports, encourage cooperation in infrastructure development, such as construction of railways and roads, logistics and warehousing facilities at sea and inland ports and industrial parks, and encourage closer cooperation in relevant financing.
"The Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Seaport Cooperation will be a new engine for the China-CEE cooperation," Liu said, adding the cooperation, combining China's equipment, Europe's technology and the markets in CEE countries, will be a great model for regional cooperation between China and CEE countries.
On financial cooperation, financial institutions and businesses from CEE countries are invited to contribute on a voluntary basis to the investment fund set by Sino-CEE Finance Holding Company Ltd., to jointly promote China-CEE cooperation on inter-connectivity and the development of relevant industries.
Participants in the 16+1 summit encouraged Chinese financial institutions, including the Silk Road Fund, to provide financing support for China-CEE cooperation, and support China and CEE countries in enhancing practical cooperation within the framework of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, including third party cooperation with other countries and regions.
The China-CEE Countries Investment Cooperation Fund (Stage II) will be launched and put into operation in 2017.
They also planned to explore the possibility of establishing a China-CEE Countries Inter-Bank Association.
"China-CEE cooperation, a trans-regional cooperation between the world's biggest developing country and emerging economies of the CEE region, is conducive to upholding the world trading system and promoting balanced and inclusive development of the world economy," the Chinese premier said in a joint news briefing after the summit.
Addressing the Fifth China-CEEC Summit, Li proposed intensification of people-to-people exchanges by fully exploiting educational, cultural, tourism, health, local and youth cooperation mechanisms "as friendship and mutual understanding among the people holds the key to state-to-state relations."
He said China supports the early establishment of a 16+1 coordination center on cultural cooperation, and will invite 1,000 young people from CEE countries to the Bridge of Future youth workshop in the next 10 years.
The Riga Guidelines gave a 28-item to-do list on cultural, health and local cooperation between China and CEE countries, including a culture season to be held in China and a health ministers' forum in Hungary next year.
Li also proposed efforts to ease visa policies, simplify border entry procedures and launch more direct flights between China and CEE countries to boost tourism cooperation, and voiced support for designating 2017 as the Year of China-CEE Media Cooperation.
"When people-to-people exchanges boom, China-CEE cooperation will thrive," Li said.
The Riga summit was held within the context of a sluggish world economic recovery, weak trade growth and new and complicated evolution of global and regional hotspot issues.
As Europe struggles to cope with its sluggish growth, subdued inflation and double-digit unemployment in the aftermath of a far-reaching sovereign debt crisis, the uncertainties brought by Brexit and an ongoing unprecedented refugee crisis are doomed to add renewed pressure.
China-CEE cooperation is "an integral part of and a helpful complement to" China-Europe cooperation, said Premier Li on Saturday.
China-CEE cooperation not only serves peace and stability of the CEE region but also contributes to balanced development of Europe as a whole, he said.
The priority of the current development of Europe is to curb uncertainties brought about by Brexit and other intriguing issues and enlarge positive aspects, said Cui Hongjian, director of the Department for European Studies of the China Institute of International Studies.
The summit sent to the world a positive message of promoting world peace and stability, enhancing trade liberalization and investment facilitation, and advancing the globalization process, Li said when addressing the summit.
It is conducive to upholding the world trading system and promoting balanced and inclusive development of the world economy, he said.
Stressing that China's development requires a peaceful and stable international environment, Li said China has all along been a firm supporter of the European integration process and welcomes a prosperous and stable Europe.
Among the 16 CEE countries, 11 are EU members, which altogether accounts for the 30 percent of the whole area of the EU and 40 percent of the total EU population.
As most of the CEE countries are seeking foreign investment to upgrade local infrastructure, China and these countries are highly complementary to one another.
When conducting the 16+1 cooperation, China has always adhered to the principles of openness and transparency, maintained close communication with the EU and welcome third-party cooperation in the CEE region with the EU, experts said.
Pragmatic cooperation between China and CEE countries has provided a new model for the development of a multi-polarized world, said Cui, adding economic growth and improvement of people's livelihood in CEE countries will help solve the unbalanced development problem in Europe and will also add to the EU stability.
"A stable and prosperous Europe will play a bigger role in a multi-polarized world," he said.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and Latvia. And this is the first time for a Chinese premier to visit the country since it gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.
Li held talks with his Latvian counterpart, Maris Kucinskis, during the official visit, in which the two prime ministers pledged to jointly promote practical cooperation in all spheres for mutual benefits, and witnessed the signing of bilateral cooperation documents in trade, transportation and culture.
During the visit, Li also met with Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis and Parliament Speaker Inara Murniece respectively.
On the sidelines of the summit, Li met separately with leaders from 12 CEE countries -- Slovenia, Albania, Macedonia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Serbia, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Czech Republic -- and Belarus as an observer of the China-CEE cooperation mechanism.
Li called for further cooperation in the alignment of their development strategies, infrastructure construction, agriculture and energy.
Li is currently on an eight-day tour of four Eurasian nations which also includes Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia.