“16 +1 ” Cooperation will Further Develop EU, instead of Splitting It

By Liu Zuokui

 

Recently, some Western media commented that the “16 + 1” Cooperation has sparked resentment and suspicion among the EU institutions and the old Europe, believing that China is splitting the EU.

The 16+1 cooperation is a key part of the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and Europe and helps promote balanced development in Europe. “1” refers to China and “16” means the 16 countries in Central and Eastern Europe including Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia.

In response to the above suspicion, China’s Premier Li Keqiang said at the Sixth Summit of Heads of Government of China and Central and Eastern European countries(CEE) that China firmly supports the process of European integration and also respects the choice of European countries made for their own development. The “16 + 1” Cooperation is an incubator for cross-regional pragmatic cooperation. It is an important part and a useful supplement of the Sino-EU relations, beneficial to the process of European integration and balanced development of Sino-EU relations. China always insists on carrying out cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries under the framework of Sino-EU relations and relevant EU laws and regulations, and welcomes extra-territorial countries to carry out tripartite cooperation under the framework of “16 + 1” Cooperation to achieve win-win results.

He said that “16 + 1” Cooperation is not a geopolitical tool but an incubator for cross-regional pragmatic cooperation. “16 + 1” Cooperation is an open and transparent cooperation with win-win results under the framework of Sino-EU relations and the EU laws and regulations. “16 + 1” Cooperation will not harm the overall European interest, instead, it will be able to inject positive energy into the process of European integration and help promote the balanced development of Sino-EU relations.

What is the basic motivation for the development of “16 + 1” Cooperation?

The basic motivation for the development of the “16 + 1” Cooperation is to meet the respective needs of both parties and help promote their economic growth and diversified developmental demands. At present, China and 16 countries in Central and Eastern Europe agree on the same principle that “demand determines everything”. Europe has provided many developed public goods to Central and Eastern European countries, greatly boosted the development of those 16 countries. In recent years, the demand for development in 16 emerging markets in Central and Eastern Europe is still strong while the EU is currently stuck in various difficulties and is unable to offer enough resources and support to the development of the 16 countries. In addition, its program of “multi-speed Europe” has triggered uneasy in many Central and Eastern European countries and now it is becoming increasingly difficult for the EU to provide an answer to the development of Central and Eastern European countries. Therefore, Central and Eastern European countries are looking for their own opportunities and China’s participation in fact provides an option for the economic growth and an opportunity for development of the 16 countries.

Will China’s intervention undermine the EU’s common position on China?

The EU common position has different characteristics, contents and modes of implementation depending on the situations and changes of the topic. This common position is often desired by some major powers within the EU. In fact, part of the EU member countries are forced to form a common position without considering their specific feelings and needs, therefore, even until now the EU has not realized true equality and democracy. On the contrary, hierarchy, serious state arrogance, and discrimination on small countries still remain.

Experience shows that many of the EU’s relations and cooperation are conducted without common ground as a premise, such as the relations between Europe and the United States. With the continuous expansion of the EU, Atlanticism and Intergovernmentalism have always existed within the EU. This is the most basic political ecology of the EU and reflects its diversification of internal demands. However, this also has no hinder on the development of close cooperative partnership between the United States and Europe.

Will “16 + 1” Cooperation Affect the EU’s Solidarity and European Integration?

The EU is essentially a loose organization instead of a single country. Although some of the sovereignty of the EU member states have been surrendered to EU institutions, the EU is still essentially governmental in matters involving diplomatic and security interests. In developing relations with China, the member states of Central and Eastern Europe have their own say. In that case, the EU should not have any objections since China and Central and Eastern European countries are developing a normal bilateral relation. The excessive eastward expansion of the EU has left a great deal of aftermath. Imbalanced integration has made it very difficult for the EU to bridge the various interest demands of member states and Central and Eastern European countries have the right to choose their own partners.

What achievements have China and Central and Eastern European countries made in five years’ cooperation?

Central and Eastern European countries have made great economic and trade gains. The economic and trade cooperation between China and EU is a hard-won result after China and Central and Eastern European countries overcame their respective difficulties in economic development (for example, EU adopted austerity policy after Eurozone Debt-Crisis and the Chinese economy entered into the “new normal”). Moreover, China’s investment to Europe has seen rapid growth.

“16 + 1” Cooperation’s achievements made in the past five years were also multi- disciplinary. For example, through various people-to-people exchange projects, the “16 + 1” Cooperation has created a great opportunity for the exchange of scholars between China and Central and Eastern European countries, which was unimaginable in the past. Each country in Central and Eastern Europe also differed in the definition of harvest. For instance, Serbia believes that five years of “16 + 1” Cooperation will bring tangible benefits to this country; and there will be short-term and long-term differences in returns. Most Central and Eastern European countries have had great gains at the initial stage, but large-scale project cooperation cannot be finished in five years. Take the Hungary-Serbia railway as an example, it may be completed after 2021, but both sides have maintained a certain degree of patience.

The saying that China’s economy, trade and investment base in Central and Eastern European countries are still small and it cannot satisfy the economic demands of those countries is short-sighted and lacks of general view. EU is China’s largest trading partner, and the huge trade volume between China and the EU has brought tangible benefits to Central and Eastern European countries sharing the European single market. “16 + 1” Cooperation can help to make up for China-EU economic and trade cooperation and enjoy developmental potential in the long run.

In short, “16 + 1” Cooperation can not only benefit each other with win-win results but also help the balanced development in this region. Not only can it be beneficial to the integration of Europe but also to world peace. The worry about China trying to split Europe is totally unfounded.

Central and Eastern European countries need enormous financial support for their economic development, and their original and traditional relying on the financial support of the World Bank can never meet their demand for development.

“In the face of economic globalization, building an open world economy has become an important way to promote its growth”. Central and Eastern Europe is not only a part in the Europe but also in the world, so it should embrace the world in an open manner.

 

Liu Zuokui Researcher of Institute of European Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences