BEIJING — In an effort to bolster regional cooperation and connectivity amid the growing trend of isolationism and protectionism, Premier Li Keqiang traveled to Tajikistan, the Netherlands and Belgium for visits and inter-governmental meetings.
Premier Li embarked on a nine-day Eurasian trip on Oct 11. Besides official visits, the Premier will attend the 17th meeting of the Council of Heads of Government of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as well as the 12th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit.
From Dushanbe, the central area of the Eurasian continent, to Brussels, home to the European Union (EU) headquarters, the crucial diplomatic move shows China’s efforts and desire to search for more opportunities and consolidate consensus with its partners to build a more cooperative, open and integrated region.
Closer ties in Eurasia
The Premier’s Eurasian trip, which has become an almost annual event in the last five years, is seen as part of China’s long-term strategy to use geopolitical advantages and break barriers among Eurasian countries.
The combined landmass of Eurasia, extending from the Pacific Ocean on the east to the Atlantic Ocean on the west, is big enough to house two-thirds of the world’s population.
With huge potential for growth lying ahead in multilateral cooperation in all fields, it is in the interests of both Asia and Europe to advance ties to form a stronger, closer bond.
During his trip, Premier Li is scheduled to attend the SCO prime ministers’ meeting, a major annual gathering of the bloc to expand all-round cooperation and promote stability in the region.
The Premier will also deliver a keynote speech on global trade and economy when staying in the Netherlands, while at Brussels’ Asia-Europe meeting, the largest Eurasian inter-governmental high-level forum, he is expected to propose China’s initiatives on Asia-Europe cooperation and call on all sides to intensify their partnerships.
Acting as key platforms for communication and cooperation, the two mechanisms were created to bring the countries of the Eurasian landmass closer.
Jin Ling, deputy director of the Department for European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said that under the current circumstances, Asia and Europe, both main drivers of the world economy, share growing aspirations for win-win cooperation and prosperity.
Connecting Eurasia with Belt and Road
Among all the attempts made to achieve overall development in Eurasia, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) stands out.
The BRI, which encompasses the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, has boosted regional connectivity by improving road networks, facilitating trade, investment and people-to-people exchanges since it was proposed by China five years ago.
Tajikistan, a landlocked Central Asian country, exemplifies the merits of joining the initiative.
China-Tajikistan trade value in the first seven months of 2018 has stood at over $780 million, seeing a year-on-year increase of 18.9 percent. Meanwhile, major infrastructure projects, including factories, road constructions and power stations, have helped the country move forward.
The initiative removes barriers among neighbors, said Liu Mingli, deputy director of the Institute of European Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
“For a long time, the role of the Central Asian countries has been left out, but they in fact have great potential to develop,” Liu said, adding that the region has attracted more global attention in recent years after joining the BRI.
The BRI has been embraced by Europe. The Netherlands, the largest destination of Chinese investment inside the EU, regained its place as China’s second largest trade partner in the bloc in the second half of last year. The two countries share a lot of common goals, as both are working to safeguard free trade and globalization.
Assistant Foreign Minister Zhang Hanhui said Premier Li will exchange views with Asian and European leaders on closer cooperation under the BRI to help boost Eurasian connectivity.
For Europe, its newly-adopted Eurasian connectivity strategy, which demonstrates the continent’s eagerness to better connect Europe and Asia, is also expected to be a major topic during the meeting.
Although some media regarded it as being in competition with the BRI, in Liu’s opinion, it means more consultation and cooperation.
“More development strategies will provide more ways, which will enable other countries to choose the one that better suits their needs,” he added.
Eurasia against unilateralism
With the profound evolution of global patterns and changes in major power relations, a more connected Eurasia is more badly needed than ever before to withstand the erosive effect of unilateralism and protectionism.
Faced with various external challenges, China’s responses are always clear and firm. From the SCO Qingdao summit in June to the upcoming China International Import Expo (CIIE), China is working with various countries to show the world its commitment to cooperation and opening-up.
Previously at ASEM meetings, the Chinese side has put forward more than 30 proposals for practical cooperation, with the most recent being the establishment of a connectivity working group under ASEM.
In the Summer Davos in Northern China’s Tianjin in September, the Premier announced a series of measures to further reduce corporate burdens, ease market access and improve the business environment, reiterating China’s commitment to opening-up and supporting economic globalization.
As staunch supporters and beneficiaries of the global free trade system, Asia and Europe will jointly expand trade ties and fend off headwinds from rising unilateralism, Jin said.
They will deliver a very clear, positive message that the two sides will work for a more multilateral world, she said.
“Asia and Europe will take the opportunity to make joint efforts in safeguarding multilateralism and international order based on international laws and rules, so as to contribute to world peace, development and stability,” Zhang Jun, assistant foreign minister, said at a press briefing ahead of the trip.