Romania believes that the Belt and Road Initiative contributes to the expansion of its economic and trade ties with China. Andrei Donciu, Counselor of the Political Section of the Embassy of Romania in Beijing, talks to Beijing Review reporter Li Nan about the Belt and Road Initiative and Sino-Romanian ties.
Andrei Donciu, Counselor of the Political Section of the Embassy of Romania in Beijing (WANG XIANG)
Beijing Review: How do you view the importance of the Belt and Road Initiative? What are your expectations of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, to be held on May 14 and 15 in Beijing?
Andrei Donciu: The Belt and Road Initiative is an epoch-making proposal by the Chinese side, which in my view will contribute greatly to enhancing bilateral relations between China and Romania. My country was among the first European states that recognized the People's Republic of China on October 5, 1949, and we take pride in the uninterrupted and continuously fruitful evolution of our relations of friendship and cooperation. Our relationship has grown stronger and deeper since it is built on mutual trust, true friendship and shared desire to understand and learn more and more of each other.
One of the pillars of Romanian-Chinese relations is made of frequent high-level meetings and intense political dialogue. All political entities in Romania share the interest in developing and expanding our friendly dialogue and cooperation, irrespective of their political platforms and ideologies.
Romanian and Chinese leaders meet often during bilateral visits and on the margins of international conferences and multilateral organizations. Since 2012, there have been seven such meetings between the Romanian and Chinese presidents and prime ministers.
Since September 2013, when the Silk Road Economic Belt concept was first announced by Chinese President Xi Jinping, our government has shown great interest in the opportunities and the great potential that such an initiative could have for the development of connectivity between Europe and Asia, with Romania particularly well located in Central and Eastern Europe as a key part of the huge ribbon of newly developed infrastructure that is on the way.
As a token of Romania's interest in the Belt and Road Initiative, our country will send a delegation to the high-level dialogue of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, headed by Gratiela Gavrilescu, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Environment.
In my view, the participation in the forum will allow for finding new ways and means of expanding the understanding of the Belt and Road Initiative by having candid and open exchanges of views that would contribute to joint actions in the name of cooperation and development.
What opportunities does the Belt and Road Initiative hold for both China and Romania?
The economic pillar is a natural keystone of Romanian-Chinese relations and our common record in this field is particularly rich. Trade has been active from the very beginning of our diplomatic relationship and in recent years has witnessed a huge rise. The value of Romania's exports to China in the first half of 2016 alone was more than the total value of our bilateral trade in the year 2000.
With unimpeded trade as one of the cooperation priorities of the Belt and Road Initiative, we are looking forward to concrete results that could lead to a more balanced trade relationship between our two countries, as Romania has a huge potential to export high-quality industrial, agricultural and food products to the Chinese market.
The successful establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) at the end of 2015 was followed by hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in projects in countries along the Belt and Road. In September 2016, Romania formulated its official readiness to embark on consultations aimed at becoming a member of the AIIB, and the accession process is progressing according to plan.
It is in the connectivity area that opportunities for expanding and further diversifying the Romanian-Chinese cooperation may be identified and turned into value. Like the Prime Minister of Romania, Sorin Grindeanu, said on the occasion of China's National Day last year: "We are persuaded that the project of the new silk roads may contribute to the expansion of economic and trade relations between Romania and China."
In September 2015, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed on establishing a connectivity platform between China and the EU. Romania supports the strong commitment of both sides to improving connectivity through actions on custom proceedings, border crossing management, logistics. As an EU member, Romania has been following these developments with keen interest and is actively involved in the ongoing debates within the EU and with Chinese partners, with a view to turning into account the opportunities that the Belt and Road Initiative offers for expanding our bilateral cooperation with China.
What challenges may China and Romania face in pushing forward the Belt and Road Initiative together?
The Belt and Road Initiative has received undivided attention all over the world, as it is considered to be not only ambitious and far-reaching, but also exposed to challenges and risks that could thwart it.
One of these challenges may be found in the very diversity of the countries that would presumably be along the Belt and Road. Close to the western Chinese borders there are hard security threats, while elsewhere history has left unsolved issues that need to be addressed with wisdom and patience. Differences among these countries are within themselves, in development gaps both horizontally, that is among regions and territories, and vertically, among social strata and segments of the respective populations.
At the same time, a bird's eye view of the landscape these countries represent reveals an amazing variety of peoples, ethnic groups, traditions and customs that would stand for both a fabulously rich heritage and a never-ending source of inspiration, creation and innovation. All in all, some 4 billion people would get involved in and hopefully, benefit from the success of this initiative once implemented.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi once compared the Belt and Road to a symphony where all countries that are interested in this project are players. This very appropriate metaphor is indicative of what the respective "players" need to do so that the result is a harmonious "piece of music."
We are confident that the Belt and Road forum on May 14-15 will be a welcome opportunity to have candid consultations among various participants in order to bring more clarity to the targets and the ways of reaching them. In addition it can become an intensive mutually learning process regarding the interests and needs of partners for better identifying the existing assets. At the same time, full transparency, alongside with equal-chances participation in using the resources, is also a must.
Expectations are high all around of the success of this initiative. They are also specific to each and every country that wishes to be an active part in its implementation. A Chinese proverb says that "when the wind rises, some people build walls; others build windmills." It seems that the Belt and Road is meant to favor the windmills over building walls—and results so far seem to certify the truth of this proverb.
China signed an MoU with Romania on the Belt and Road Initiative in 2015. What are the major projects China and Romania have launched since then?
It was in June 2015 that high-level officials in Romania and China signed an MoU between the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Tourism of Romania and the Ministry of Commerce of China, concerning the promotion of cooperation within the framework of the Romania-China Joint Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation for the joint development of the Silk Road Economic Belt. It was among the very first documents related to the Chinese initiative that were concluded between an EU member state and China.
Such bilateral documents are a welcome catalyst for enhancing bilateral trade and investment ties. Since 2015, Romania's exports to China have increased by 17.31 percent, accounting for $682 million, and the total level of Chinese investment in our country has reached $468 million, with more investments being made through the Europe-based SPVs (special purpose vehicles) in various sectors such as agriculture, the automotive industry and green energy. Smithfield, Nidera and Pirelli are some of the major investments.
Trade numbers are set to grow exponentially in future years, for example with Romanian agricultural and food products such as pork increasingly available in the Chinese market.
In addition, Romania and China are in advanced negotiations for two major projects in the field of energy: Units 3 and 4 of the Cernavoda Nuclear Power Plant and the Rovinari Coal Power Plant, with total investment in these two projects exceeding an estimated $7 billion. Beyond such major investment projects, which due to their complex nature would take time to come to fruition, we are witnessing numerous small and medium-sized Chinese investments in Romania, which are a particularly interesting result of fruitful cooperation, especially at a local level.
The Belt and Road Initiative has inspired Chinese local authorities to aim high and dare to go abroad, and Romania's development prospects are extremely inviting. Recent data have put Romania's economy on the top of the growth trend in Europe, with 4.8 percent GDP growth in 2016, and significant developments have been recorded in the business environment as well. According to the World Bank's Doing Business Report 2015-2016, Romania ranks 37th worldwide.
Romania aims to build a freight corridor which will link the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Is it possible to synergize the corridor with the Belt and Road Initiative?
Within European connectivity, one of the key roles is played by the 2,860-km-long Danube River, which is the EU's longest river. The Danube passes through, or touches, the borders of 10 countries and 29 percent of its basin is located in Romania before it reaches the Black Sea. It is on the Romanian Black Sea coast that the port of Constantza is located, with a handling capacity of over 100 million tons per year and the facilities to accommodate tankers of 165,000 DWT and bulk-carriers of 220,000 DWT.
Goods that are shipped to this harbor are transferred from high-sea vessels to river vessels and then, via the Danube-Black Sea Canal, reach ports upstream in the other EU and non-EU members.
This is why we call it "the Blue Highway" that crosses Europe so that merchandise for Europe that come via the Suez Canal can take a "short-cut" without having to cross the length of the Mediterranean Sea to reach markets in Western Europe—and so trade can travel the other way round, to the Middle East and Asia, including China.
The Romanian Government supported the opening of the Constanta (Romania)-Batumi (Georgia) ferry connection, which had its maiden voyage in October 2014.
This connection could be further synergized with transport corridors crossing the Caucasus region and beyond over the Caspian Sea to Central Asia and as far as China.
Copyedited by Dominic James Madar
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