BUDAPEST — Officials from China and Hungary explored mutual economic opportunities at a Budapest symposium titled “CEECs-China Cooperation and ‘One Belt, One Road’ construction” on May 5.
The symposium was organized by Hungary’s Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Secretariat for Cooperation between China and the Central and East European Countries (CEECs). The Secretariat is a Chinese institution, which is under the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
China’s special representative for China-CEECs cooperations Huo Yuzhen, speaking on behalf of the Secretariat, said she hoped the symposium would throw more light on the essence of the “One Belt, One Road” initiative and unleash the potential for cooperation between China and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE).
China needs to become more open to the outside world and to deepen its integration into the world economy while promoting the development of the countries involved with the project, Huo said. She called it a win-win initiative made up of concrete actions offering tangible benefits to all.
Huo described the CEE as a bridge connecting Asia, Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Baltics, making it a gateway to Europe with huge development potential. China, she said, envisages cooperation in trade, investment, finance, tourism, education, agriculture, and people to people exchanges, among other areas.
She underlined that trade between China and the CEE had amounted to $60.2 billion in 2014, while Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the CEE countries totaled $5 billion. CEE investment in China topped the $1.1 billion dollar mark, she added.
Huo underlined the importance of building a high-speed rail line between Belgrade and Budapest, as part of a rail link connecting the Greek port of Piraeus, a destination for Chinese seagoing vessels, with Central Europe. She also pointed to the direct air route between Beijing and Budapest opened just a few days ago as an opportunity to boost tourism and cultural exchanges.
Speaking for Hungary, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Laszlo Szabo pointed to the new world order under development, emphasizing that “the 21st century will be the era of Asia.”
The Belt and Road project, he said, was to connect the eastern parts of Asia with Africa, the Middle East, and Europe by creating smooth and secure trade routes. The initiative, he said, meshed with Hungary’s “Opening to the East” and “Opening to the South” initiatives.
Szabo said Hungary was ready to serve as the gateway to Western Europe, given its strategic location in the CEE region. Its main goal, he said, was not just to become a transit country for Chinese goods but to serve as a logistics hub. He pointed out that Chinese telecom giant ZTE, telecom equipment and services company Huawei, and the Bank of China, had already chosen Hungary for their regional centers.
In that context he noted Hungary’s support for internationalization of the Chinese Renminbi, pointing out that the national banks of China and Hungary had signed a currency swap accord for a nominal amount of 10 billion yuan ($1.63 billion).
The National Bank of Hungary, Szabo said, was preparing a Renminbi foreign exchange reserve portfolio and establishing a Renminbi liquidity instrument to deal with market disturbances as well as getting ready to set up a Renminbi settlement infrastructure related to the use of the Renminbi in the cross-border activity of Chinese banks.
Hungary, said Szabo, would like to remain the top destination for Chinese investors in the CEE region, adding that to date businesses with at least some Chinese ownership had invested $3 billion in Hungary.
Szabo also spoke of a customs clearance agreement being ironed out by Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, and China, to help move goods from the port of Piraeus once the rail line is complete.
Regarding people-to-people exchanges, Hungary has one of the largest Chinese expat communities in the CEE, with many members having lived here for decades and having become a cultural bridge between the two cultures, he said.
As far as tourism is concerned, Szabo noted that Hungary had 160,000 visitors from China in 2013/2014, while 21,000 Hungarians had visited China. 2015 is officially the Year of China-CEE Tourism Promotion, he added.