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Belt and Road improves CEEC prospects

By Ivona Ladjevac | China Daily Europe | Updated: 2017-05-07 14:09

China and the Central and Eastern European countries must begin to view each other not strictly as competitors, but as partners

President Xi Jinping's intention to renew the once significant and famous Silk Road, and to include within it the earlier announced "16+1 Cooperation", couldn't come at a better moment from the perspective of the Central and Eastern European countries.

Considering that the majority of the CEECs, being EU member states, were severely threatened by the world economic crisis that initially hit the US financial sector and then spilled over to the rest of the world, not bypassing Europe, such a maneuver was absolutely wise. At the same time, the minority of CEECs that still are not in the EU, but ardently wish to get in, were in an even worse situation based on their underprivileged overall internal conditions.

Thus, it wouldn't be a hyperbole to describe the newly emerged form of cooperation as an offer of a helping hand to a friend or friends in need.

Suddenly the prospects for the CEECs have become encouraging, though all parties involved in regional efforts like the "16+1 Cooperation" and the much wider Belt and Road Initiative must overcome prejudices toward each other and change their mindset in order to stop seeing each other strictly as competitors, but as partners.

Notably, these challenges seem to be very demanding, since they are grounded on the diversity of 16 countries, each with disadvantages derived from complex internal circumstances and the additional burden of such external occurrences as refugee crises and terrorist threats. This is why the political elites of the participating countries must be aware that success is granted only if all participants build their relations on the Belt and Road principles of joint discussion, co-construction and sharing; creating an open, inclusive, balanced and benefits-sharing framework of regional economic cooperation; practicing a new approach to sharing power and responsibility; and pursuing benefits and righteousness alike.

Following these principles will lead to realization of the key objective of the Belt and Road's "five ways of connectivity" : policy coordination, facilities connectivity, unimpeded trade, financial integration and people-to-people bonds.

And when it comes to the other essential part of the "16+1 Cooperation" equation - that is, China - it is necessary to abolish ideological divisions and geopolitics and push forward comprehensive and balanced development of China-EU relations by promoting further and in-depth cooperation between the two markets, two civilizations and two powers - China and Europe.

So far, driven by the coordination of "the 16+1 Cooperation" platform, official institutions and local governments of China and the CEEC have formed a series of policy coordination such as between prime ministers, ministers, departments and bureaus. The resources from all parties and policy instruments are power factors that can help form new and creative decision outcomes and support tools.

What is more, the "16+1 Cooperation" promotes active engagement of enterprises, financial institutions and people organizations; contributes to complex and multiple interest interaction among all powers; improves the shift or integration of the industry chain, financial products and collective and individual factors toward the Central and East European market; and shores up confidence of the Belt and Road in the CEEC market.

Since the "16+1 Cooperation" is a format that provides an institutional framework for the initiatives, both in programs and projects, in economy, investment and finances, as well as in the areas of research, science, education and culture, China and the CEECs by now have established at least 15 coordination mechanisms or platforms. These are in such areas as economy and trade, investment, tourism, local cooperation, transportation, logistics, technical cooperation, think tanks and health. Such kinds of coordination mechanism or platforms are an innovation in the field of policy communication. They are practical, flexible and targeted.

In trying to summarize projects that have so far been initiated or realized, one could easily get the impression that the infrastructure projects are overwhelming. Certainly the substantial infrastructure projects so far accomplished have opened the door to cooperation, but of the greatest importance, at this point, is the opening of communication between the CEECs and Chinese entrepreneurs and innovators that will lead to full utilization of the aforementioned projects. The relevance of roads, railways and bridges definitely shouldn't be argued, but success of both the "16+1 Cooperation" and the Belt and Road will be measured by the bulk of goods that have been transported, the number of people who have traveled, and the volume of financial transactions that have flowed between the countries.

The CEEC's stakeholders should bear in mind that Chinese partners are receptive to exceptional business ideas. Thus, there is a need for pushing forward domestic industrial transformation and upgrading and a necessity to overcome the role of plain consumer and take on the role of innovator and manufacturer. Such changes would naturally lead to a more open, inclusive and diversified type of cooperation that would easily assure stable finances and even welcome third parties.

The author is coordinator of international cooperation of the Belgrade-based Institute of International Politics and Economics in Belgrade. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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