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Balkan experts hail Belt and Road initiative at Belgrade conference

Xinhua | Updated: 2016-11-02 10:18

BELGRADE - China's cooperation with Central and East European (CEE) countries advances rapidly and opens new opportunities for cooperation with China as well as among CEE countries themselves, stressed most participants of an international conference here on Tuesday.

The one-day conference under the name "The Belt and Road - Balkan Perspective" was opened at the Faculty of Security Studies in Belgrade by Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, Chinese ambassador to Serbia Li Manchang in presence of renowned experts from China and countries of the region, who gathered to discuss cooperation with China within the 16+1 mechanism before the upcoming forum to be held in Riga, Latvia.

Dacic said that 16+1 mechanism which he referred to as "a logical part of the concept of the Belt and Road" significantly expanded cooperation between 16 CEE countries and China in different areas.

He stressed that many new connections and relations in many areas were made since the mechanism was established - from economy, infrastructure and energy to medicine, culture, science, education as well as sports, tourism, regional cooperation, inter-party relations, cooperation and mutual support in international organizations.

Dacic summed up that 11 countries participating in the mechanism are EU members while the remaining 5 are in different phases of the EU accession, adding that "The EU is not completely happy because of their cooperation with China".

"Mechanism 16+1 includes several Balkan countries. Besides Serbia it includes Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Albania, as well as three EU member countries - Croatia, Romania and Bulgaria. It has proven to be a significant channel to expand cooperation, strengthen existing connections and establish of new ones -- among countries of the Balkans themselves, and with China," Dacic said.

Li said that in the essence of the Belt and Road initiative is an idea that people should work together disregarding their race and origin, as well as to develop and create better conditions for business and exchange between nations.

He reminded that China's excellent relations with Serbia resulted in signing comprehensive strategic partnership this June, as well as that in recent years many Chinese companies were appointed on different infrastructural projects in Serbia for the first time in Europe.

Dean of the Faculty of Security Studies Ivica Radovic who greeted the participants with words: "welcome to Serbia, welcome to the new silk road", said that China's cooperation with CEE countries are developing fast and offer huge potential for the future.

"Just several years after the start of the initiative 16+1, we can witness its rapid development from an attractive idea to an institutionalized reality. This form of cooperation already has concrete institutional mechanisms, such as regular annual summits, leaders' meetings, regular organization of economic and trade as well as meetings of national coordinators," he said, adding that this creates a bridge between Chinese and the EU market.

Radovic concluded that China represents a reliable partner to CEE countries whose infrastructural capacities and stable growth open possibilities for mutual economic cooperation, and an opportunity for 16 countries to overcome the effects of the global economic crisis.

Speakers at the international conference focused on the political and security aspects concerning the Belt and Road initiative, as well as economic, cultural and other aspects.

"All current security and political challenges in the Balkans cannot bring in question intention of these countries to cooperate with China, advance bilateral relations, realize projects in cooperation with member countries of the 16+1 mechanism and to find their place within the Belt and Road project," said Zarko Obradovic, MP and president of the parliamentary group for the cooperation between Serbia and China.

"If we look at the geographic dimensions and the space that this initiative covers, we can only imagine how many new infrastructural projects will be realized, how many new roads and railways constructed and how many countries will be connected. This presents a good foundation for new projects within the Belt and Road," Obradovic pointed out, adding that cooperation within the 16+1 mechanism accelerates development of both EU and non-EU countries that participate in it.

He stressed that Serbia is among countries who signed an agreement to participate in the construction of the Belt and Road and that it is ready to actively support the Chinese initiative.

"This is win-win cooperation. China presents no conditions, but only opportunities for economic growth and development of Balkan countries," Obradovic said and concluded that cooperation with China is in the interests of citizens of Balkan states and governments have to work in correlation with that.

"Central Eastern Europe is important not only because it is the gateway to Western Europe, final destination of the Belt and Road initiative, but also because it is an emerging market with increasing need for infrastructure, high-tech products and much more," said Long Jing, deputy director of the Centre for European Studies of the Shanghai Institute for International Relations.

"So it is necessary for China to take into consideration the interests of these 16 countries and keep the vitality of the mechanism," she said, stressing that the future of 16+1 mechanism is in multilateral projects and cooperation with sub-regions such as the Balkans or the Black-Sea region.

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