During his visit to Greece last June, Li and Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras made a tour at the container dock of the China Ocean Shipping Co. (COSCO) in Piraeus Port. In a bid to promote the prosperity of the port, the two sides agreed to expand the business of COSCO in Piraeus.
In 2008, COSCO was permitted to obtain franchise rights at Pier 2 and Pier 3 of Piraeus Port. On December 20, 2014, Greece's parliament approved an agreement on expanding COSCO's facilities in Piraeus. According to the newly approved agreement, COSCO will invest 230 million euros ($281 million) in the expansion project of the Pier 3. Upon its completion, the throughput of containers at COSCO's docks will increase to 4.75 million TEUs from 3.16 million TEUs in 2013.
The Greek side has also expressed willingness to sign a customs clearance treaty with China at an early date, which will provide convenient conditions for the throughput in Piraeus.
Enhancing economic cooperation between China and CEE countries will be an important supplement to the close ties of China and the EU, said Zhou Yongsheng, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University in Beijing.
"There is a Chinese saying that 'roads must come before wealth.' This clearly demonstrates the importance of infrastructure. Focusing on infrastructure construction and investment cooperation is just one feature of Li's diplomacy," Zhou noted.
The project of the land-sea express passage is very important for Greece, Macedonia, Hungary and Serbia. Furthermore, the passage will further link the Mediterranean and the Danube. As CEE leaders said, the route will enhance regional connectivity and is in line with the interests of the region as well as the EU and the whole of Europe, Zhou stressed.
"With the new route, trade between China and CEE countries will enjoy a significant leap, and transportation will also be more convenient and fast," Zhou said.
According to Zhang Jian, Director of the Institute of European Studies under the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, maintaining sound ties with CEE countries is an indispensable part of China's foreign policy toward the EU. "China treats ties with both CEE countries and the rest of Europe equally," he said.
The EU is China's largest trading partner. China has established a comprehensive strategic partnership with the EU. On November 20-21, 2013, both sides reached the China-EU 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation at the 16th China-EU Summit, which outlines the future development of their ties.
China's further investment in CEE countries will help promote the integration of the EU, Zhang said.
The EU has long been committed to offering aid to CEE countries for economic growth. China's investment in the fields of infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing will lift the development of CEE countries, advancing the balanced development of Europe as a whole. If Central and Eastern Europe can enjoy fast development, it will bring more opportunities for Western Europe, Zhang noted.
Among the 16 CEE countries, five of them are not yet EU member states. These five countries also have a strong demand to strengthen economic ties with China.
Over the past year, around 80 percent of cooperation items reached by China and CEE countries in the Bucharest Action Plan have been implemented, said Chen Yurong, a senior research fellow and Director of the Department for European-Central Asian Studies under the China Institute of International Relations.
Despite uncertainties in the global economy, China and CEE countries have just begun their cooperation and there is huge potential ahead, Chen said.
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Previous China-CEE Leaders' Meetings
Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries include Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia. They cover a combined area of over 1.3 million square km, with a population of 123 million.
- First China-CEE Leaders' Meeting
April 26, 2012
Leaders of China and 16 CEE countries agreed to view relations with one another from a strategic height and long-term prospective. They also agreed to develop future-oriented friendly partnerships based on equality, mutual respect and benefit.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao put forward 12 measures to enhance relations with CEE countries. He stressed that China's bid to strengthen ties with CEE countries is an important part of efforts to boost China-Europe relations and conform to the interests of all sides.
- Second China-CEE Leaders' Meeting
November 26, 2013
China and CEE countries issued an action plan and pledged to expand investment and boost infrastructure collaboration.
The countries also agreed to expand cultural and people-to-people exchanges, strengthen communication and coordination on global and regional affairs and broaden common interests.