This Friday China will gather 16 Central and Eastern European countries in Sofia, Bulgaria, for the annual China-Central and Eastern European “16+1” summit. As the gathering may help China build a bigger economic and political presence in Europe and exercise its power bilaterally under the cover of a multilateral veneer, it warrants more attention from Brussels and Washington.
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Nowhere else in Europe has China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) been met with quite such a warm embrace as in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). China’s large-scale financing of highways, railways, ports, and other infrastructure to better connect China to Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe has clearly struck a chord with CEE leaders.
This week, 16 Central and Eastern European (CEE) heads of state gather with Chinese officials in Hungary for the sixth meeting of the “16+1” format. Created in 2012, the “16+1” has gathered extensive attention in the EU, as a Chinese diplomatic initiative neither directed towards Brussels nor (officially) toward single member states.
Chinese infrastructure investment in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is on the rise, according to data collected by Reconnecting Asia in collaboration with the Financial Times. A focal point of this investment is the 16+1 format, which brings together China and 16 CEE countries. In November, at the sixth annual 16+1 summit, Chinese premier Li Keqiang announced an additional $2.4 billion in development-oriented financial cooperation loans. We asked a group of experts to comment on China’s rising economic engagement in the region, which has been called the “gateway to Europe” for its flagship foreign policy initiative, the Belt and Road.