VIENNA – EU Should not consider the Belt and Road Initiative as a threat. This was one of the conclusions of the panel discussion “New Silk Road and the Western Balkans”, organised by one of Austria’s most prominent lawyers and lobbyists, Gabriel Lansky on the 6 June.
In his opening remarks Mr. Lansky argued that the EU should not consider the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as a threat, but rather take up President Xi’s recent invitation to co-finance relevant BRI projects. Despite disagreements on public procurement and governance standards, the goals of the EU and China overlap in the Western Balkans: increased connectivity.
Infrastructure developments in the Western Balkans should be seen as ideal trust-building exercises for further EU-China cooperation in other matters. Concluding his remarks. Lansky left the panel with the question of whether the EU’s conditions for investments in the region are too stringent.
Though leaving this question unanswered, Theo Sommer, former Editor in Chief of Die Zeit, did succinctly present his new book “China First”, where he argues that a Chinese century has begun.
“Be it China’s leadership in renewable energy and electric mobility, an increasingly assertive foreign policy or its frightening pioneering role in digital surveillance, China under Xi Jinping wishes to regain its central place under the sun after a century of humiliation”, concluded Sommer.
China’s Ambassador to Austria, Li Xiaosi presented BRI’s timeline and said that cooperation is a “win-win” for all sides and the cooperation must be of mutual respect.
“The EU has abandoned its previous image of China as a gradually converging country and, instead, recently termed China a systemic rival“, said Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, former EU Ambassador to China.
Despite joining the WTO in 2001 and years of reform promises (most notably during President Xi’s 2017 speech at Davos), Schweisgut thinks that China has yet to ensure full reciprocity, i.e. equal access to its domestic market and transparent regulations that do not discriminate foreign businesses.
The EU’s new strategic approach to China shows a less naïve stance and a clear position, as well as timeline regarding its demands for increased reciprocity, concluded Schweisgut.
Serbia’s State Secretary for Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, Imre Kern, presented the audience with a comprehensive list of completed and planned highways, railways, and other infrastructure projects financed by China.
Kern reiterated that Serbia is China’s leading partner within the “17+1” Forum and explained that the country benefits from its cooperation with China due to modern infrastructure, efficient implementation and flexible contracts – thereby perhaps answering the event’s opening question.