Achievements of '16 + 1' and Future Challenges
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published November 22, 2017
China-CEEC Think Tanks Network held in Budapest. ADN's diplomatic editor Genc Mlloja was there.
The Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and the China-CEEC Think Tanks Network, in cooperation with the Institute of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary, organized the China-CEEC Think Tanks Conference 2017 which was held on Monday in Budapest. The Conference was organized as a satellite event for representatives of national think tanks on the margin of the Sixth Summit of China and Central and Eastern European Countries, which will be held on November 27 this year in Budapest. "The event is a significant platform of the so-called 16+1 cooperation as it brings together academics, researchers and media representatives to discuss experiences and future prospects of partnership between China and the region's countries," said in his welcoming remarks Mr. Marton Schoberl, Ambassador and Director of Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade of Hungary. He pointed out that the Initiative was a new chapter in the relations between China and CEEC countries in many fields.
The so-called 16 + 1 was established in 2012 as Beijing's initiative to cover various issues such as investments, trade, but also culture and education. The group includes 11 EU countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia; and five non-EU countries from the Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. In the meantime in 2013, President Xi Jinping proposed with the international community to jointly build the "Silk Road Economic Belt" and "21st century Maritime Silk Road", and since then the "Belt and Road" Initiative has gradually made positive progress in all aspects.
Albania is part of both Initiatives "When considering the achievements of the first five years of the 16 + 1 cooperation, it should be acknowledged first of all, that via this partnership China and the region rediscovered each other following the low intensity of relations in the 1990s. Partnership between China and Central and Eastern Europe have seen remarkable improvement reflected by the numerous high-level events and the signing of momentous agreements," said Ambassador Marton Schoberl.
Important Partners in Central and Eastern Europe
In his opening remarks in the Conference the Minister of State for Cultural and Science Relations at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Istvan Ijgyarto welcomed warmly the participants of the
China-CEEC Think-Tank Conference, the official side event of the 6th Summit of Heads of Government of China and Central and Eastern European Countries.
"Generally speaking, think tanks play a vital role in the development of bilateral and multilateral international relations. Such institutions are organized for interdisciplinary research with the
objective of providing advice on a diverse range of policy issues through the use of specialized knowledge and the activation of networks. Through performing research and advocacy, think tanks
provide valuable support to decision making procedures of ministries and political forums," Mr. Istvan Ijgyarto said.
"As for the cooperation of China and the Central and Eastern European countries, think tanks are deeply engaged in analyzing the experiences of partnership in the recent past and identifying new opportunities for collaboration. I would like to thank their contributions today that will highlight the achievements of the past five years in China-CEEC cooperation. The accomplishments of 16 + 1 cooperation are numerous, as it will certainly be vividly reflected in the upcoming
panels," Minister Ijgyarto said.
Further on he said that important lessons could be drawn from the achievements and the way that lead to them for the future enhancement of China-CEEC cooperation. "It makes us very proud to think back at the beginnings of this cooperation platform that could be traced to the China and Central and Eastern European Countries Economic and Trade Forum organized in Budapest in 2011, as the first high-level meeting between China and the countries of the region.16 + 1 cooperation has considerably matured since then, through the establishment of various mechanisms," he said, adding that in addition to the annual summit of the prime ministers the ministerial-level Economic and Trade Forum itself became a regular Forum, followed by the Forums of Ministers in the areas of transport, education, culture and health.
Mr. Ijgyarto highlighted that Hungary had always been an active participant of China-CEEC cooperation, taking the initiative several times. "Hungary strongly supports the platform, upholding the view that China-CEEC cooperation also constitutes an important part of
cooperation between the EU and China in the framework of their comprehensive strategic partnership, representing added value. China has four strategic partners in our region, including three EU Member States. This indicates that China sees important partners in the countries of our Central and Eastern European region and it is willing to support their development," said the minister, who saw promising opportunities for the CEE countries and Europe in China's Belt and
Road initiative. "China-CEEC cooperation became intertwined with the initiative in many aspects. CEECs recognized this historic chance and all declared their support to the initiative. In 2015, Hungary was the first European country to sign a cooperation agreement with China to jointly promote the building of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. By this time, all CEE countries signed similar documents to join the initiative. At the end of November last year, Hungary held the first bilateral Belt and Road Working Group Meeting with China, around four main areas in sub-working groups, such as trade and agricultural products, infrastructure, finance, as well as culture and education," he said.
In conclusion the Hungarian Minister expressed the hope that the November 27 Summit of the Prime Ministers of China and the sixteen CEE countries, as well as last Monday's conference would explore possibilities for CEECs to conduct mutually beneficial cooperation with China in the framework of the Belt and Road initiative, as well as give further impetus to the evolution of China-CEEC cooperation.
16 + 1, an Important Part of China-EU Relations
Dr. Huang Ping, Director-General of the Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, who is also Secretary-General of 16 + 1 Think Tanks Network, highlighted in his keynote speech in the Conference the achievements of China-CEEC cooperation in the latest five years. He introduced a general view of the investments made in the countries of that region through different projects and the positive results of the cooperation looking forward to further
"I would like to draw your attention that it was right here in Budapest in April 2011 where we held the first China-CEEC Economic and Trade Forum, a precursor to the first China-CEEC Leaders' Meeting in Warsaw in 2012, which marked the founding of 16 + 1. Five years have passed and together we have made great achievements in policy consultation, economic cooperation, cultural exchanges, and many other fields," he said.
Further on Mr. Ping launched a call: "Let us combat the instability of the world economy with the stability in the Chinese economy. Combat the uncertainty of the world order with the certainty of China-EU relations and the certainty of 16 + 1." "China is a consistent supporter of European integration and we always welcome a prosperous and stable Europe. We maintain that 16+ 1
cooperation makes an important part of China-EU relations, it supplements China-EU relations and it gives specific drives to China-EU cooperation. As President Xi Jiping puts it, we see 16 + 1
cooperation an important gateway to incorporate the Belt and Road initiative into the European economic community, a new engine to boost China-EU cooperation and a priority platform to reinforce four major China-EU partnerships of peace, growth, reforms and civilization,"
said Mr. Ping.
Further on Mr. Ping announced that in a week's time from Monday Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will join his 16 CEE colleagues in Budapest for the 6th Meeting of Heads of Government of China and Central and Eastern European Countries.
"The Chinese should know more on Albania"
Dr. Jing Long, Deputy Director of European Research Center at Shanghai Institute for International Studies, who made a contribution on the topic on transportation and communication between China and CEEC, referred also on opportunities of important investments in Albania in the field of transport and communication. In this frame she mentioned the fact that Albania's only international airport (Tirana International Airport) was bought by a Chinese company.
China Everbright Group, a state-backed financial firm, bought all the shares of Albania's airport operator for an undisclosed sum on Friday, hailing the deal as part of China's push to build trade links with Europe. The deal marks the first major investment by a Chinese company in NATO-member Albania, which became an ally of China in the 1960s when it split with the Soviet Union. Albania relied on Chinese aid until 1978 to build almost all of its industry. The Chinese government
has been encouraging local firms to invest overseas under its "One Belt, One Road" program and Chinese firms are increasingly investing in overseas infrastructure projects, Reuters reported on October 7, 2016.
Mr. Long told Albanian Daily News that the field of tourism was very catchy and attractive in the cooperation between China and Albania because, according to her, the Chinese travel a lot. She
pointed out that the Chinese could do more to make Albania known to their people. "The Chinese should know more on Albania, its beauties, its people and the old friendly bonds between the two people," she said.
During the panel discussions in Budapest Conference, which was also attended by a group of Albanian researchers and journalists, the think tanks representatives from China and CEE countries introduced achievements of "16 + 1 Cooperation" in the past five years and challenges for the future.
Countries like Hungary, Poland, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina etc. have carried out a number of projects since that initiative was launched in different fields and their representatives pushed for new opportunities. In the meantime, some representatives from the EU member countries raised the issue that more projects had been carried out in the 5 non- EU member countries in the frame of the 16 + 1 Initiative, while some others spoke of possibilities that the
initiative could turn into 16 + 1... and more.