China and Central and Eastern European states have pledged to increase two-way trade in a summit being held in Bucharest. China expert Justyna Szczudlik-Tatar tells DW why Beijing's interest in the region is increasing.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang recentlym arrived in Romania to attend a summit with leaders of Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries that started on November 26. It is Li's maiden trip to Central and Eastern Europe since he took office in March, and also the first visit by a Chinese prime minister to Romania in 19 years.
China aims to increase its investments and strengthen economic ties with the 16 CEE countries. Trade between China and the CEE countries, which include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia, amounted to 45.4 billion dollars during the first 10 months of 2013.
Justyna Szczudlik-Tatar, an analyst at the International Economic Relations and Global Issues Programme of the Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw, tells DW in an interview why China is getting more interested in Central and Eastern Europe.
DW: China seems to be interested in strengthening its ties with Central and Eastern European states. What are China's motives behind this?
Justyna Szczudlik-Tatar: The main motives are economic. China is paying more attention to Eastern European states because of their economic potential. For instance, during the recent economic crisis in the continent, Poland recorded a sizable GDP growth.
After the CEE summit in Warsaw last year, China established a secretariat to increase contacts with Central and Eastern European states. Did it make a difference?
We must not forget that this secretariat is part of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There is no secretariat of this kind in Central and Eastern Europe. It is true, however, that after establishing the secretariat, China became more active in this part of Europe.
China is now organizing different cultural and educational forums. It is also organizing many study tours for experts, journalists and scientists from Central and Eastern Europe. So, yes, there is a difference. But I don't think that we can say there is a difference in terms of economic relations. We are still waiting for investments from Beijing, and for CEE exports to China to increase.
Most states in the CEE are also members of the European Union. Why is China pushing for a separate body for dialogue?
It was China which decided to create this idea of the 16 CEE countries. These were formerly socialist nations and China has had diplomatic relations with them for a long time. Beijing says its relations with these states are different from its ties with the European Union as a whole.
The summit in Bucharest is not going to be a dialogue between 17 states on a single topic. There will be 16 separate dialogues between China and the CEE countries. It is easier for China to meet the delegates of 16 CEE states at one place and hold bilateral discussions with them individually.
Why is this summit significant for the non-EU states in the CEE?
For smaller countries in Central and Eastern Europe, which also include non-EU nations, such a conference is a better format because it is a chance for them to meet with Chinese politicians annually. For China, it is logistically useful and convenient because during one visit they can meet with 16 prime ministers from 16 countries.
The interview was conducted by Matthias von Hein.