Since the founding of the China-Central and Eastern European Countries Cooperation mechanism in 2012, China and Central and Eastern European countries have embarked on a new chapter of cooperation. Over the past few years, despite challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still stable engines and great potential for China and CEE countries' cooperation.
China and the CEE countries have faced common challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past few years, such as the supply chain crisis, sluggish economic growth and disruptions of import and export trade. The pandemic has put downward pressure on the economies of all countries and hit international economic and trade cooperation.
Moreover, as the relationships among China, the United States and the European Union become more complicated, CEE countries are under increasing pressure from the US and its allies to choose sides between China and the US, casting a shadow over China-CEEC cooperation. Political changes in some CEE countries have also raised uncertainties for their cooperation with China. However, China-CEEC relations remain resilient and robust despite the headwinds.
In the political field, China and the CEE countries have a strong willingness to strengthen cooperation, which sets the foundation for continuing cooperation under the China-CEEC mechanism.
Since US President Joe Biden took office in January, relations between the US and CEE countries have witnessed changes. While some countries have taken sides with the US, more countries have realized that they could not entirely rely on the US, and that it is equally important to develop ties with countries outside the European Union.
Meanwhile, some CEE countries have disputes with the EU on certain issues, and developing relations with major external powers could also increase their leverage in the dialogue with the EU. Moreover, during the China-CEEC Summit in February, China vowed to continue to open up, take a more active part in bilateral, multilateral and regional cooperation, and achieve a higher level of win-win cooperation. As an example of building a new type of international relations, China-CEEC cooperation still plays an important role in China's diplomacy. Both sides' willingness for political cooperation is the cornerstone of China-CEEC cooperation.
In the economic field, both sides' cooperation continues to be robust. According to China's customs statistics, in the first three quarters of this year, the total bilateral trade value between China and CEE countries reached 629.41 billion yuan ($98.8 billion), up 27.2 percent year-on-year. China's exports to CEE countries totaled 461.05 billion yuan, up 25.3 percent, while imports from CEE countries totaled 168.36 billion yuan, up 32.5 percent.
Despite the limited economic size of CEE countries, the growth of economic and trade cooperation between China and CEE countries has been higher than that between China and the EU. In the first three quarters of this year, trade between China and the EU was up 22.7 percent year-on-year.
Moreover, the operation of the China Railway Express has boosted China-CEEC cooperation. According to China State Railway Group, CRE trains carried 1.22 million 20-foot equivalent units of cargo, a 33 percent increase over the same period last year.
In recent years, some CEE countries claimed that China attached importance to economic and trade cooperation with non-EU member countries, such as Serbia. However, statistics show that Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, China's top three trading partners in Central and Eastern Europe, are all EU members and their economic and trade cooperation is growing annually.
In addition, Lithuania announced its withdrawal from the "17+1" (17 CEE countries plus China) cooperation mechanism, claiming that the mechanism had no significant positive impact on bilateral economic and trade cooperation. However, data from Lithuania's National Employment Service Center showed that in the first eight months of 2020, the value of China-Lithuania imports and exports reached $1.71 billion, up 14.5 percent year-on-year, indicating steady growth in bilateral economic and trade relations.
In both political and economic terms, China has always adhered to the principle of practical cooperation and actively promoted its cooperative relations with CEE countries. There is great potential for future cooperation in areas including connectivity, scientific and technological innovation, digital economy, green development, agriculture and forestry.
China-CEEC cooperation is an important part of China's efforts to build an open world economy and a new type of international relations. It is also a beneficial part of China-EU relations. China aims to achieve mutual benefit through multilateral cooperation, which is in the interests of the vast majority of the global community.
In further boosting China-CEEC cooperation, CEE countries should work together with China to address problems and challenges and work together to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic under the principle of consultation. For the EU, it is important to abandon a Cold War mentality and power politics, reduce the influence of political manipulation on practical cooperation, and avoid a "lose-lose "situation.
China, as the largest growing market in the world, could be an important factor driving the economic growth of CEE countries. If the EU and CEE countries would understand that, it could be very important for the sound development of the China-CEEC cooperation mechanism.
The author is a researcher at the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.