by Xinhua writer Zheng Jianghua
BEIJING, July 5 (Xinhua) -- As Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's meeting with leaders from 16 Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries is forthcoming in Sofia, Bulgaria, it is an opportune moment for stocktaking of the 16+1 cooperation.
Delving into its outcomes, it's only too obvious that the 16+1 cooperation, a platform jointly launched by China and CEE countries in 2012, has brought about tangible benefits for Europe.
First and foremost, trade relations between China and CEE countries, which include 11 member states of the European Union (EU), are deepening at full tilt.
According to data from Chinese customs, trade volume between the two sides in 2017 amounted to 67.98 billion U.S. dollars, up 15.9 percent on a year-on-year basis.
The pace is slightly faster than that between China and the EU, which rose 15.5 percent in 2017. It also outperformed the overall growth rate of China's overseas trade, which was 14.2 percent.
The data make it crystal clear that at a time when Europe is on a bumpy road to economic recovery, 16+1 cooperation is playing a positive role.
Another merit of the mechanism is that it nurtures close interconnectivity across the vast landmass of Eurasia.
CEE countries, located at the heart of Eurasia, are important transit points. On the back of the 16+1 cooperation as well as the Belt and Road Initiative, interconnectivity between China and Europe has developed remarkably.
China-Europe freight trains have taken the lead in this respect. According to data from the China Railway Corporation, as of mid-April in 2018, a total of 7,891 freight trains have traveled between China and Europe.
The rail network has linked 43 Chinese cities with 42 European ones in 14 countries. Furthermore, the China-Europe freight transportation is becoming more balanced and sustainable, as trains returning from Europe are loaded with more diverse and top-line goods.
Another eye-catching advantage of the 16+1 cooperation mechanism lies in the mutually beneficial partnership.
A glaring example is the Smederevo Steel Mill, a plant of Serbian national pride.
The plant, which went through a seven-year tough patch, finally started to make profits in the end of 2016, only eight months after Chinese HeSteel Group poured in investment.
The takeover has not only saved some 5,000 jobs, but also steadily increased the workers' income in sync with growing outputs and sales.
Last but not least, China is a staunch supporter for European integration. It has no intention to use the 16+1 cooperation platform as a geopolitical tool to split the EU, as some Europeans worry.
Zivadin Jovanovic, a Serbian expert on international relations, said Europe is divided along many different lines but it should look inward and locate problems in its own ranks, instead of casting a skeptical eye on China.
China does not have a tradition of dividing others in order to rule over them, Jovanovic added.
Lying at the bottom of the EU's jitters is the bloc's uneven development, with CEE countries lagging behind Western Europe and the Nordic countries in terms of social and economic development. That has sparked heated discussions on "multi-speed" or "two-speed" Europe for years.
The 16+1 cooperation is conducive to narrowing the gap inside the EU, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi pointed out during his visit to Germany in May. He also underscored that a divided, weakened EU is not in China's interests.
Fruitful results of all these years of the 16+1 cooperation mechanism have fully proved that the platform is a boon for Europe. The upcoming seventh meeting between Premier Li and leaders of CEE countries will add more credence to the compelling fact.