A short interview with Liviu Muresan, president of EURISC, a Romanian think-tank that has been working with Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) for more than 20 years, reveals that Romania had the idea to connect the Belt and Road Initiative and the 16+1 mechanism with the Danube Strategy: “It was 3 years ago that we had this idea here, in Bucharest, because we noticed common interests, so we proposed it to the 16+1 meeting in Bled, in Slovenia”.
The 16+1 initiative was set up within the Chinese Foreign Ministry, China is the coordinator, and it encourages each participant country to take an important role. Formal cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries started in 2006 when their ministers of agriculture participated in the China-CEEC Agro-trade and Economic Cooperation Forum in China, a forum that held 8 editions in China and the 9th was organized in Bucharest in 2014. In 2012, the Prime Ministers of the 16+1 met in the 1st summit in Warsaw, Poland, and they focused upon economic growth and cooperation. In November 2013, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with his 16 counterparts from CEEC at the 2nd summit of the Prime Ministers of China and Central and Eastern European Countries held in Bucharest, Romania. In December 2014, the 3rd meeting of Heads of Government of China and Central and Eastern European Countries was held in Belgrade, Serbia and Prime Minister Li Keqiang participated again.
In September 2014, the 2nd China-CEEC High-Level Symposium of Think Tanks was held in Bled, Slovenia and here is where the idea of interconnecting the Danube Strategy with the BRI and 16+1 was put forward and, as it has turned out, much appreciated by China.
Since 2014, EURISC has been working with Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS), submitted a joint project to the Chinese Foreign Ministry and received approval, and things have progressed significantly.
A Chinese delegation from SIIS has recently visited Romania to prepare the input for the final report that will be presented in September 2017. LONG Jing, Deputy Director of the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies, Dr. FANG Xiao, Director of the Department for General Affairs, and Dr. ZHANG Yinghong, Director of the Institute for Global Governance Studies, all of them Research Fellows of the Center for European Studies, worked together with EURISC experts in the Danube Delta, not in Bucharest, as a symbol of their project.
The project, funded by the 16+1 Secretariat in Beijing, is also supported by the Romanian side. At the end of their visit, the SIIS delegation met with high officials of the Romanian Foreign Ministry and of the Romanian Presidency.
Before Romania, the SIIS delegation visited several Danube countries: Germany, Austria, Hungary, which has the biggest Chinese community in CEE and maybe the biggest amount of Chinese investment, and ended the tour with Romania, which is one of the most important countries for China because it is a strategic country in the mechanism called 16+1.
EURISC and SIIS work together and do studies to identify the synergies of the Chinese projects between national strategies and the EU strategies.
EURISC’s contribution to the project will be on the Peaceful Use of the Outer Space and Critical Infrastructure Protection. EURISC has expertise in advanced research, it has been awarded a prize in 2015 from The Royal United Services Institute in London, a British defense and security think-tank, for its study on “Resilience 2050”.
SIIS will use its expertise to act as a bridge between Chinese entities and European ones, first to facilitate cultural understanding, then to shape the framework for actual cooperation. SIIS researchers stated in Bucharest that “Bilateral relations between China and individual countries, and between China and European sub-regions are part of the larger picture of China-Europe relations. Within 16+1, China is trying to develop its cooperation with sub-regions to provide more energy and dynamics to the traditional China-Europe relations.
China’s initiatives, European strategies and Romania’s development plan have a lot of things in common: to increase connectivities, and to develop economies and societies. Water management, water diplomacy and water governance are becoming increasingly important in global governance. We can contribute to the Danube Strategy with experience in water management and water economy, also in non-economic areas, such as flood prevention, because China also has international rivers in South East, Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, and has expertise in those”.
Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) is aware that “The 16+1 are Western-oriented cultures, while China is Eastern-oriented. We see a role for our project in promoting culture because the Chinese business people are interested in the 16+1 countries, especially those who have invested in Africa, they want to promote more trade, but may not understand so well the 16+1 countries, so the cultural exchanges are extremely important”.
In China, local governments have much power to promote local economies and they are interested in doing it because of a general awareness that by doing so, their value will increase in the eyes of the central government.
Initiated in 2011, the Danube Strategy has now 14 participant countries, out of which some are not EU members, such as Serbia, Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova.
According to the Romanian officials, navigation is the natural focus of this cooperation but other domains are of interest as well, such as land cooperation, where Romania and Austria make efforts to include it in the Strategy, as well as environment and flood risk. The Romanian ports of Giurgiu and Galati on the Danube River will become logistical hubs for the region, as they have connections to the railway and roads infrastructure in Ukraine, Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia. The Romanian port of Constanta at the Black Sea is also a vital hub between the East and West due to its connections to the Central Europe on the Danube via the Danube-Black Sea Channel with the ports of Varna, Burgas and Piraeus and farther on.
A detail in this story is a lesson that we should sometimes revisit our assessment patterns. It also proves that China is extremely wise in choosing its alliances: it shows patience, disregards the kindergarten quarrels among politicians and focuses on facts and on the potential of a country. Romania’s being chosen as a long-term partner is the proof. Indeed, despite an apparent permanent political turmoil, Romania has a solid economy, a fact reflected in the annual economic growth and declared by the private sector and many foreign investors in Romania who make plans for further development.
So does China.