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China, CEEC ties help augment economic, anti-pandemic efforts

Cao Desheng
Updated: Feb 09,2021 08:56 AM    China Daily

Cooperation between China and the Central and Eastern European countries is moving full steam ahead in the global fight against COVID-19 and amid economic recovery efforts.

The move is perceived as a beneficial complement to the partnership between China and the European Union.

Since the inception of the China-CEEC cooperation mechanism in 2012, it has become an all-around, multilevel and wide-ranging multidimensional platform for mutually beneficial cooperation with positive progress in trade, investment, contracted engineering projects and connectivity, said Gao Feng, spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, at a news conference on Feb 4.

Following 16 other countries, Greece became a full-fledged participant of China-CEEC cooperation in 2019.

Despite the pandemic, trade between China and the 17 countries reached more than $103 billion last year, up 8.4 percent year-on-year, according to the ministry.

Since the pandemic started, China-CEEC cooperation has become much closer. In March, Chinese officials and health experts held a video conference with their counterparts from the 17 countries to develop information exchanges and share experiences on epidemic prevention and control. China has also provided medical assistance and exported anti-epidemic materials to the countries in accordance with their needs.

As China is committed to making the COVID-19 vaccines it develops into a global public good, vaccine cooperation has become a new highlight to further lift anti-pandemic teamwork between China and the Central and Eastern European countries.

Hungary's government said in mid-January that it had reached a deal with Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinopharm to buy its coronavirus vaccine. Serbian health authorities also approved the use of Sinopharm's vaccine in January, two days after a million doses were imported from China, enabling the country to begin the mass immunization of its population.

China has made it clear that the China-CEEC cooperation mechanism is a trans-regional cooperation platform established under the principle of openness, inclusiveness and transparency. It also operates according to the shared will of China and the countries involved and is a component of China-Europe cooperation.

Observers said that China and the Central and Eastern European countries could use the platform to jointly champion multilateralism, strengthen collaboration in fighting the pandemic and explore cooperation in more fields, including technological innovation, the digital economy and green development, in addition to joint construction of the Belt and Road.

In the post-pandemic period, China-CEEC cooperation will play an important role in stabilizing and recovering regional and global economic vitality, they said.

One area highlighted in China-CEEC relations is the China-Europe Railway Express, which saw record high freight shipments passing through Central and Eastern Europe to Western Europe last year with Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Lithuania and Slovakia becoming important routes and destinations.

Ding Yifan, a research fellow at the Institute of World Development at the Development Research Center of the State Council, said there are strong complementarities between China and the Central and Eastern European nations in industrial development, which helps to create tremendous potential for further cooperation.

China's engagement with the global economy and its consistent opening-up to the rest of the world have also brought business opportunities to the Central and Eastern European countries, Ding said. Better alignment of the Belt and Road Initiative with development strategies of those countries also could help upgrade and improve the quality of cooperation between them and China.

Through the trans-regional cooperation platform, China puts an emphasis on its connectivity with Europe and regards railways, ports and investments as the foundation for achieving balanced development and social cohesion in Europe.

For example, the Chinese-built Hungary-Serbia railway has greater significance than short-term economic benefits for the two European countries. It is part of the land-sea express line from Piraeus, Greece, across the Balkan Peninsula to the core corridor in Europe, which may be extended to reach more countries.

Marek Hrubec, a faculty member of the Institute of Philosophy at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, said that with the world being challenged by unilateralism in recent years, the China-CEEC cooperation mechanism has not only helped promote teamwork between China and countries involved in the mechanism, but also has helped strengthen collaboration among the European countries.