China set to make tracks for Europe

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By QIN JIZE in Bel­grade and ZHAO YI­NAN in Beijing

w‘ It ill be­come an al­ter­na­tive to the ex­ist­ing north­ern route con­nect­ing China with Europe by rail, which goes through the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, Rus­sia, Poland and (even­tu­ally) Spain.”

China is to boost its pres­ence in the Balkans and fun­nel ex­ports to Europe through a “cor­ri­dor” link­ing Beijing with the con­ti­nent via the Mediter­ranean.

In the Ser­bian cap­i­tal of Bel­grade on Wed­nes­day, China, Hun­gary, Ser­bia and Mace­do­nia agreed to build a land-sea ex­press link con­nect­ing Bu­dapest, Bel­grade, Skopje, Athens and the port of Pi­raeus in Greece, one of the largest con­tainer ports in Europe.

The cor­ri­dor will be based on a rail link be­tween Bu­dapest and Bel­grade, which will be built and fi­nanced by Chi­nese com­pa­nies by 2017.

It will ex­tend to Mace­do­nia be­fore reach­ing Pi­raeus, a key Euro­pean en­try point for Chi­nese prod­ucts such as cloth­ing, man­u­fac­tur­ing ma­chin­ery, house­hold ap­pli­ances and ve­hi­cle parts.

The four coun­tries signed a frame­work agree­ment on Wed­nes­day to stream­line cus­toms clear­ances along the route.

The ini­tia­tive will pro­vide more con­ve­nient sea ac­cess for Chi­nese ex­ports to Europe and for Euro­pean goods to China.

It will also trans­form Pi­raeus into a new hub for trade with the con­ti­nent, in ad­di­tion to help­ing land­locked Hun­gary and Ser­bia gain ac­cess to the most im­por­tant tran­sit port con­nect­ing the Balkans, Mediter­ranean and Africa.

Chi­nese shipping gi­ant COSCO has a 35-year con­ces­sion for two piers at Pi­raeus.

Zhao Junjie, a re­searcher of Euro­pean stud­ies at the Chi­nese Academy of So­cial Sciences, said the project will sig­nif­i­cantly boost the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of coun­tries along the cor­ri­dor, with the route go­ing through an area with 32 mil­lion peo­ple and 340,000 square kilo­me­ters of land.

“It will be­come an al­ter­na­tive to the ex­ist­ing north­ern route con­nect­ing China with Europe by rail, which goes through the Xin­jiang Uygur au­ton­o­mous re­gion, Rus­sia, Poland and (even­tu­ally) Spain,” he said.

Premier Li Ke­qiang, who is on an of­fi­cial visit to Ser­bia to at­tend a meet­ing of 16 lead­ers from Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­pea, said the ex­press line is just a start and China hopes more lines will be built in the re­gion.

“As China is de­ter­mined to ex­pand the eco­nomic pie for all, we will con­tinue to push for free trade and con­ve­nient in­vest­ment - the best medicine for a slug­gish global econ­omy,” Li said.

He also said the ex­press line will help to re­bal­ance de­vel­op­ment in dif­fer­ent parts of Europe and speed up Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion, which he be­lieves will win the un­der­stand­ing and support of the Euro­pean Union.

Hun­gar­ian Prime Min­is­ter Vic­tor Or­ban said China has shown tremen­dous courage to lead such a big project from afar.

He Maochun, di­rec­tor of the Econ­omy and Diplo­macy Re­search Cen­ter at Ts­inghua Univer­sity, said the cor­ri­dor will help China to re­struc­ture its ex­ports.

In the first 10 months of this year, bi­lat­eral trade be­tween China and Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries rose to $50 bil­lion.

ZHAO JUNJIE RE­SEARCHER OF EURO­PEAN STUD­IES AT THE CHI­NESE ACADEMY OF SO­CIAL SCIENCES

Con­tact the writer at qin­jize@chi­nadaily. com.cn

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