When Hungary signed a cooperation document with China on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2015, it was the first European country to do so.
Almost four years later and ahead of the ongoing Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, 22 European countries had inked BRI cooperation documents with China.
Heads of state or government from such European countries as Austria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Portugal, Serbia and Switzerland, as well as high-level representatives from France, Germany, Britain, Spain and the European Union are now in Beijing for the BRI Forum.
In the month leading up to the forum, Italy and Luxembourg became the latest European countries to sign BRI cooperation documents.
In a joint interview with Chinese media before heading to Beijing, President Ueli Maurer of the Swiss Confederation said that the BRI is a rare long-term strategic plan and has created a new dimension for the development of the world economy.
As some landmark projects for sustainable development will be launched in the near future, the positive results of these projects could dispel the doubts of certain sideliners, thus laying the foundation for a better global development in the future, Maurer said.
Sustainable development was highlighted by Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday at the opening ceremony of the forum.
He said China will work with other parties to promote a coalition of sustainable cities and an international coalition for green development under the BRI.
While Europe increasingly embraces the BRI, Hungary is proud to be the first European country to sign an intergovernmental cooperation agreement.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Xinhua before the forum that his government is making efforts to achieve tangible benefits through dovetailing the BRI with Hungary’s “Opening to the East” policy.
In Hungary, Chinese investors and companies have contributed to the success of the national economy, Szijjarto said.
“They have brought technologies to the Hungarian economy which helped us to enter this new digital era of global economy,” he said.
“We are happy that companies in the field of the automotive industry proved to be very active in the market, since the automotive industry is the number one in Hungary, and now the automotive industry enters a new phase from the combustion era to the era of electro-mobility and autonomously driven cars,” he added.
The BRI is also helping to revive old towns. In the German city of Duisburg, China Railway Express has increased from three trains per week to 35 to 40 per week right now, stimulating the growth of port industry and creating over 6,000 jobs.
In Serbia, Chinese investment has brought the Smederevo steel mill back to life, and now a one-billion-USD tire manufacturing plant is established.
The joint building of the Belt and Road has also created a new platform to boost international trade and investment, expanded new practices to optimise global economic governance, and made new contributions to improving people’s well-being of all countries, Xi said on Friday.
Improving bilateral trade and especially tapping China’s huge market has been a hallmark under the BRI.
For example, 16 Central and Eastern European countries have signed BRI cooperation agreements with China, and trade between them and China has increased more than 50 percent in the recent seven years.
The trade volume reached 82.23 billion U.S. dollars last year, up 21 percent year-on-year, with China’s imports from the 16 countries rising faster than its exports.
On Friday, Xi said China will increase the import of goods and services on a larger scale, continuously open up its market and welcome quality products from around the world.
This is exactly what many Europeans have in mind.
Renzo Cavalieri, a professor of juridical institutions of East Asia at Ca’Foscari University in Venice, noted that Italy has a trade deficit with China.
“As Chinese markets open up, that could mean more exports to China, and more jobs in Italy. Maybe over time, that trade deficit will shrink,” he said.
In a landmark BRI investment, China’s COSCO SHIPPING acquired a 51-percent stake in Greece’s Piraeus port in 2016.
In just two years, Piraeus’ container throughput increased from 880,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2016 to 4.9 million TEUs in 2018, ranking second among all Mediterranean ports.
“I would like to stress besides the economic success the social success of this investment,” Greek Foreign Minister George Katrougalos.
“COSCO with the encouragement of our government has completed collective agreements with the workers in the port of Piraeus so as to ensure not just profits for the economies of the two countries, but also very good working conditions for those working in the port of Piraeus,” the minister said.
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell has said recently that “Spain is especially interested in exploring ways of collaboration in third-party markets.”
Referring to the forum, he said “in this international event we hope that our companies have the chance to make contact with Chinese companies and other countries that are interested in finding synergies in third-party markets.”
Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee of the City of London Corporation Catherine McGuinness said the BRI is a centennial project and could bring about some 1.8 billion British pounds (2.4 billion U.S. dollars) to Britain’s gross domestic product (GDP) if her country fully joins it.
“As an unrivalled hub for international infrastructure investment, British firms stand ready to provide much of the private financing required by the project, and can also support in green finance, consultancy, rule of law and foreign exchange” McGuinness said before going to Beijing for the forum.