The increasing cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries (CEEC) has raised concerns among some pundits that China's growing influence in the region might impact on the unity of Europe, but Chinese experts said Sino-CEEC cooperation will only serve to promote regional prosperity and will further promote European integration.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang called for enhancing links between China and the CEEC and put forward pragmatic proposals to advance their cooperation in a keynote speech at the seventh China-CEEC Economic and Trade Forum in the Hungarian capital city of Budapest on Monday, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
As an important complement to China-Europe ties, the increased cooperation between China and the 16 CEE countries - dubbed the 16+1 - has helped promote the development of overall China-Europe relations, Li said.
However, some European media, including Financial Times and the Brussels-based EU Observer, expressed concerns over China and CEEC ties.
One Financial Times headline read, "Brussels rattled as China reaches out to Eastern Europe."
The EU Observer suggested China is motivated by self-interest. "The whole idea is to find ways to boost the economy outside China, to generate demand for Chinese goods," the EU Observer quoted Anastas Vangeli, from the Polish Academy of Sciences, as saying. "These are not cheap goods," Vangeli was quoted by the newspaper as saying.
'Not a geopolitical tool'
"Brussels need not worry. The 16+1 cooperation is proceeding in accordance with China-EU ties… and China's stance on supporting the unity and prosperity of the EU is consistent," said Wang Yiwei, an expert on Europe from Renmin University of China.
Wang said that China adopted EU's standard when it initiated cooperation with the CEEC, and has been transparent with the EU, which has observer status at the 16+1 summit.
Wang also noted that it is understandable from a historical point of view for Brussels to worry about the strengthening relationship between China and the CEEC as foreign powers have attempted to undermine European unity in the past.
Financial Times reported on Monday that the scope of China's operations in the CEEC "has spilled over into overtly political and strategic areas, breeding mistrust among some of the western European powers that dominate the EU's agenda."
"[These ideas] show that the EU is less confident when it comes to a non-European country's activities in the region as it is currently facing challenges in many areas, including immigration, the economy and challenges from separatism," Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies with the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
Cui said that the situation requires China to spend more time and effort to convince the EU that it is not interested in winning strategic and geopolitical influence with the 16+1 cooperation.
The 16+1 cooperation is not a geopolitical tool, but an incubator for pragmatic trans-regional cooperation, Li said on Monday, adding that the cooperation is conducive to the balanced development of China-EU relations, Xinhua reported.
Wang also said that some nations in the CEEC, which are developing countries and cannot meet requirements for EU membership, are not receiving enough aid from the EU. Cooperating with China can bring sustainable economic stimulus that will promote collective prosperity in the region and promote European integration.