CGTN: As the Belt and Road turns 10, high time for China and Europe to talk amid uncertainties

BEIJING, Oct. 17, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — Serbia is one of the countries benefiting from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), with the century-old steel mill in the northeastern city of Smederevo serving as a prime example. Founded in 1913, the Smederevo Steel Mill once contributed 40 percent of the city’s revenue at its peak and was known as the “pride of Serbia.”

Later, due to intensified market competition and poor operation, the steel mill began to lose money year after year and was on the verge of bankruptcy. The Government of Serbia initiated several rounds of international tenders, all of which failed. In 2016, over 5,000 employees faced uncertainty. But then China’s Hebei Iron and Steel Group stepped in to establish HBIS Serbia Steel and introduced advanced management and technology, turning the steel mill into a global enterprise with a focus on clients and supply chain. The company was actively integrated into the “Belt and Road” and the process of economic globalization, rapidly establishing itself as a highly competitive steel enterprise in Europe and a prime example of international industrial collaboration.

BRI cooperation between China and Europe

The revival of the century-old steel plant is an epitome of the benefits brought about by the BRI to Europe. Twenty-six European countries have signed BRI documents with China. Under their BRI cooperation, China’s imports from the EU increased by 63.7 percent between 2016 and 2021. Its imports from Central and Eastern European countries jumped 127.3 percent during the same period. The China Railway Express, which links a number of Eurasian cities located near China’s east coast to the shore of the Atlantic Ocean, is increasingly busy. In the past year, 16,000 trains traversed the route between China and Europe, a stark contrast to the mere 80 at the inauguration of the CR Express over a decade ago.

New challenges

Compared with the first few years of the initiative, the situation between China and Europe is significantly different. Their bilateral relationship needs fine tuning to tackle uncertainties and challenges, as well as an upgrade of the mindset to replace the out-of-time zero-sum one. Chinese senior diplomat Wang Yi, when addressing the 12th China-EU High-level Strategic Dialogue held in Beijing last week, said China and the EU are partners, not rivals, and they have more common understandings than differences. Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell said that, despite their different political and economic systems, the EU and China share a common interest in pursuing constructive, stable relations.

Meanwhile, the BRI is also entering a new stage. In the beginning phase, both private and state-owned contractors took the lead in building basic infrastructure. Those projects helped to nurture political goodwill and energize local business partners. Thanks to them, private Chinese companies now feel more comfortable doing business in BRI partner countries. China is encouraging private enterprises to take a more active role and participate in projects labeled as “small and beautiful,” which refers to the smaller projects directly connected with improving local livelihoods. New investment favorites include businesses in sectors such as new energy, healthcare, mobile communication, and e-commerce.

Need for more dialogue

Since the launch of the BRI, its global partners have been trying to find more theoretical frameworks and institutional arrangements to make the global cooperation program sustainable. Chinese President Xi Jinping put forward the Global Development Initiative, the Global Security Initiative and the Global Civilization Initiative. These global initiatives have been widely recognized by the international community and have made historic contributions to global human rights governance on specific issues related to security, development and cultural diversity.

Against all these backdrops, it is high time for China and Europe to carry out more dialogue on key strategic issues and CGTN is hosting a TV forum on the sidelines of this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, themed China’s Global Initiatives and the BRI: Opportunities or Risks?

Panel guests include Danilo Türk, former President of Slovenia; Michael Schumann, chairman of the Board of the German Federal Association for Economic Development and Foreign Trade; Rudolf Scharping, former German Defense Minister; Susanne Baumann, former director of the Confucius Institute at Dusseldorf; and Zhong Hong, former senior vice president of Evonik Industries. The panelists will have an in-depth discussion about China-EU ties under the discourse of the Belt and Road Initiative, which are related not only to the wellbeing of the two sides, but also to global stability and prosperity.

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