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Premier’s Eurasia tour to unleash potential for regional cooperation

Updated: Dec 14,2014 10:12 AM     Xinhua

BEIJING — Premier Li Keqiang’s upcoming three-nation tour in Asia and Europe will not only help further China’s relations with the host countries, but also be of great significance to regional and subregional cooperation, experts say.

During the seven-day trip which starts on Dec 14, Li will pay an official visit to Kazakhstan and attend the 13th prime ministers’ meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

He will also attend the third leaders’ meeting of China and Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries and pay an official visit to Serbia.

In Thailand, the final leg of his tour, Li will attend the fifth summit of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) Economic Cooperation.

Fresh momentum for sco cooperation

Li’s visit to Kazakhstan will be his first since he took office in 2013, as well as the first visit by a Chinese premier to the country since 2008.

Sheng Shiliang, executive director of the Center of SCO Studies, said China-Kazakhstan relations have maintained a good momentum of development, with remarkable achievements in cooperation in such fields as security, inter-connectivity, trade and economy.

During his stay in the Central Asian nation, Li will also attend the second regular meeting between the China-Kazakhstan heads of government.

In Kazakhstan, Li is expected to address an event held by the entrepreneurs’ committee of the two countries, and witness the signing of about 30 cooperation documents valued at over $10 billion.

Li’s visit embodies great importance attached by China to its amity with Kazakhstan, Sheng said, adding that the signing of big business deals will inject fresh vitality into Kazakhstan’s economic development.

Besides, the Premier’s attendance at the SCO prime ministers’ meeting will broaden cooperation within the regional organization in such areas as security, economy, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges.

In the context of the prolonged Ukraine crisis, the threat of “three civil forces” of separatism, extremism and terrorism, and the slowdown of some member states’ economic growth, high expectations have been placed on the SCO and great importance attached to China’s role in dealing with those issues.

At the meeting, Li is expected to expound on China’s proposal in safeguarding stability, developing economy, and improving the people’s livelihood, and put forward a series of initiatives in bolstering the organization’s development, so as to implement the consensus reached at the September SCO summit and inject new momentum into the development of regional cooperation.

New driving force for China-Europe ties

When attending the China-CEE meeting in Serbia, Li will discuss major plans for cooperation with leaders of 16 Central and Eastern European nations.

Kong Tianping, a research fellow on Europe studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said the 16+1 meeting mechanism, as a new platform for China-CEE cooperation launched in 2012, will enormously increase the two sides’ political will for bilateral cooperation.

Last year, Li attended the second leaders’ meeting of China and CEE countries in the Romanian capital of Bucharest and the two sides sketched out 38 cooperation projects, 80 percent of which have been put into practice.

China and the CEE countries have already made great progress in some big cooperation projects, as Chinese enterprises’ cooperation with Serbia, Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and other countries in the region have yielded fruitful results in the area of infrastructure construction.

The two sides have also set up a platform for cooperation in the fields of education and culture.

“It is noteworthy that among the 16 CEE countries, 11 have joined the European Union (EU) and the other five have also set a target for the membership in the bloc,” Kong said.

“China-CEE cooperation is an important element of China-EU relations, whose in-depth development will not only become a ‘new driving force’ for the two sides’ cooperation, but also be conducive to the balanced development of bilateral ties,” he added.

Serbia, the host country of the meeting, has enjoyed a profound traditional friendship with China and plays a decisive role in China-CEE relations.

In 2009, it became the first CEE country to establish a strategic partnership with China.

Li’s visit to Serbia is of positive significance to consolidating and developing bilateral relations, Kong noted.

New development for subregional cooperation

The GMS, initiated by the Asian Development Bank in 1992, is composed of six member nations in the Mekong River Basin — China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University’s School of International Relations, said the GMS cooperation has made considerable headway after China’s participation, adding that China’s development has made the cooperation project come true.

Li’s attendance at the GMS meeting will politically boost the development of this mechanism and promote mutual political trust with some Southeastern Asian nations, so as to dispel misgivings and strengthen their political will to interact with each other, he said.

The GMS serves not only as an important element for China’s foreign policy toward its neighbors, but also a complement to the country’s cooperation with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

As countries in the subregion are also landlocked members of ASEAN, most of whom are less developed nations within the bloc, China’s cooperation with them will help ASEAN realize balanced development.

Xu Liping, a research fellow of the Asia-Pacific and Global Strategy with CASS, said China has made great contribution to the subregional cooperation in financial assistance, poverty reduction, agricultural technology and nontraditional security.

He added that Li’s attendance at the meeting will undoubtedly play a positive role in pushing forward cooperation in the subregion.

The Premier’s proposals at a series of leaders’ meeting on East Asia cooperation last month, including inter-connectivity and an upgraded free trade area, also relate to cooperation in the GMS, he said.

Therefore, Li is likely to detail those proposals at the upcoming GMS summit and put forward some new proposals, which will “not only focus on economic development, but also reinforce security cooperation, in a bid to realize a ‘dual-wheel driving force’ for both political security and economic development,” Xu noted.