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China’s One Belt, One Road Initiative And The Balkans Are Seaport Links Between Asia And Europe- Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia

ArmchairTechInvestor, June 7, 2018, by Brad Peery

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Below are summaries of the OBOR initiatives in the countries covered in the Balkans Region.

Albania

*“Albania is a small country in Southeast Europe, located across from Italy (less than 45 miles from the Italian coast) and bordering Montenegro to the northwest, Kosovo to the northeast, Macedonia to the east and Greece to the south and southeast. With a coastline on the Adriatic Sea to the west and on the Ionian Sea to the southwest, Albania is strategically placed at the center of a natural crossroad in Europe.”
*The Belt and Road Initiative: Country Profiles, Hong Kong Trade Development Council, May 17, 2018

**“China would like to take an active part in Albanian major infrastructural and energy projects such as roads, hydro-electric power stations and economic development zones, and strengthen cooperation on cultural and people-to-people exchanges, film-making, education and tourism, the Chinese vice premier said.”
**China, Albania agree to expand cooperation under Belt and Road, 16+1 framework, Xinhua|, Yameni, April 18, 2017

Bosnia & Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) shares borders with Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro in Southern Europe. A number of agreements between the EU and B&H have been concluded, including the Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA), which became effective on June 1, 2015. In addition to the SAA, B&H has signed the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA) with Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia. It has also signed free trade accords with Turkey and joined the European Free Trade Association, (EFTA), a common market that includes Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.

***Gen. Chang Wanquan said that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a trusted friend of China in Central and Eastern Europe. In recent years, mutual political trust between the two countries has been deepened, and exchanges and cooperation have been steadily advanced in various fields. Marina Pendes, the Defense Minister of B&H, said that the two countries and two militaries have profound friendship. Bosnia and Herzegovina firmly adheres to the One-China policy and firmly believes that the Belt and Road Initiative will benefit countries and people along the way and of the world as a whole.
***Chinese defense minister meets with Bosnia and Herzegovina counterpart, China Military, EditorYao Jianing, May 17, 2017

Bulgaria

“”Bulgaria has a strategic location at the center of the Balkans and Southeast Europe, and the main roads of Europe to the Middle East and Asia pass through it. Ease of transportation is provided by five Pan-European corridors (IV, VII, VIII, IX and X), four major airports (Sofia, Plovdiv, Bourgas and Varna), two of the largest ports on the Black Sea (Varna and Bourgas) and numerous other ports along the Danube River.”

Bulgaria could become a bridge for Chinese cargo and open the “New Silk Road”(One Belt One Road Initiative) to Central and Western Europe, said Transport Minister Ivaylo Moskovski in response to a question on the Trans-Caspian transport corridor, reports Bgnes.

****“A meeting in early 2018 was attended by representatives of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan (rail and sea carriers, logistics companies). For the purpose of acquainting with the opportunities of the Bulgarian ports, visits to ferryboat complex Varna, port of Varna and port of Burgas (Port Bulgaria West and BMF Port) were organized within the meeting. In order to develop the cooperation with the participants in the project, representatives of BDZ – Freight Transport EOOD took part in various initiatives, within which the potential of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route was presented.”
****Bulgaria can Open the “New Silk Road” to Central and Western Europe, Novinite.com, April 29, 2018

Croatia

*Croatia is located in Southeast Europe, and is bordered by Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. “With three major Pan-European corridors (X, V and VII) crossing through it, Croatia provides one of the shortest routes linking Western Europe with Asia, Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean. This advantageous geo-strategic position, coupled with lower operating costs compared to the majority of other EU members, has made Croatia increasingly attractive as an investment destination in Europe.”

Pragmatic Croatian-Chinese cooperation has been considerably strengthened, Chinese Ambassador Hu Zhaoming said.

****”Over the past 25 years, the mutual understanding of the two peoples has deepened greatly. Pragmatic cooperation between Croatia and China has gained in strength and last year our trade volume reached $1.2 billion, which means that it grew over 30 times in the past 25 years,” Hu said, adding that “our relations are at a new starting point, facing new historical opportunities. Although the two countries have established a comprehensive cooperative partnership, the ambassador noted that bilateral cooperation lags behind China’s cooperation with Croatia’s neighbors.
****China, Croatia could enhance ties under Belt and Road Initiative: ambassador, Xinhua|, Yang Yi, September 15, 2017

Greece

*****In 2016, the Chinese state-owned firm COSCO Shipping completed the acquisition of a 51% stake in Piraeus Port, Greece, one of the biggest ports in Europe. “Greece, a key point along the route of the ancient Silk Road, will once again serve as the hub connecting Asia, Europe and Africa, according to the Greek Ambassador, Leonidas Rokanas. ‘Eventually, Piraeus will become the main entry point for Chinese exports to southern, eastern and central Europe,’ Rokanas told the South China Morning Post. To use a Chinese metaphor, Piraeus will form the ‘head of the dragon’ of the so-called land-sea express route, leading to the heart of Europe through Greece.”

For Greece, the deal could represent a major boost for its recovery following the debt crisis that started in 2009, and racked its economy. The port sale has ushered in a flurry of Chinese investments totaling $1.6 billion from companies including mobile giants Huawei and ZTE, the China Machinery Engineering Corporation as well as State Grid, Shenhua Group and Sinovel in the energy sector.

For China, the deal represents an important element of the OBOR Initiative as some 50 per cent of China’s GDP and around 90 per cent of the EU’s external trade depends on shipping. “The land-sea express passage connecting southeast and central Europe to China via Piraeus … has further upgraded the significance of Piraeus,” said the Greek envoy.

Greece has already taken concrete steps towards making the Port of Piraeus the entry point for an extended railway network into inland Europe. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras expressed the intent of Greece to upgrade the railway connection between Piraeus and Serbia’s capital Belgrade.

In September, Greece signed an agreement with Bulgaria on the construction of a high-speed railway network, named “Sea2Sea”, that will connect three ports in Greece, Thessaloniki, Kavala, Alexandroupolis, with three Bulgarian ports, Burgas and Varna on the Black Sea and Ruse on the Danube, Europe’s second-longest river.
*****Why Greece is banking on China’s modern-day Silk Road to help its economic recovery, South China Morning Post, By Catherine Wong, December 26, 2017

Macedonia

“Macedonia is a landlocked and mountainous country in Southeast Europe. One of the least developed of the Yugoslav republics to gain independence in 1991, Macedonia remains one of the poorest economies in Europe. However, given its considerable economic reforms, Macedonia was ranked 10th in the World Bank’s annual Ease of Doing Business Report 2016. Macedonia’s sea transport relies mainly on ports in neighboring countries, such as Port of Thessaloniki in Greece and Port of Durrës in Albania, through road and rail links.”

The infrastructural projects built with Chinese aid are extremely important for the region of Central and Eastern Europe, but we also need educational, scientific and cultural connection, Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov admits.

******”China once again comes close to the position it had two centuries ago, and that is to be the biggest economy in the world. As a result of this progress, China has made a huge step forward in many other fields,” Macedonian President Ivanov says, pointing out that the countries from Central and Eastern Europe can benefit especially from the Chinese accomplishments in the area of technology and innovation.”
******”One Belt, One Road” initiative brings more than infrastructure to Central and Eastern Europe, Xinhua|, Editor, Mu Xuequan, October 8, 2017

Montenegro

*“Montenegro is situated at the center of the Balkan Peninsula in Southern Europe. Its southern coastline lies on the Adriatic Sea, while borders are shared with Albania, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia. With access to the Mediterranean Sea, and having the Port of Bar as its most important south Adriatic port, Montenegro serves as a link between Southern Europe and Africa, the Middle East, India, Russia and Asia.” Montenegro has free trade agreements with the EU, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), the Central European countries (CEFTA) and Russia.

President Aleksandar Vučić said that Serbia is in the midst of a physical transformation that Vučić has promised his compatriots will end their isolation and open the door to the European Union. To turn his “passion” into reality, the Serbian president is relying not just on Europe, but on an old ally farther east, China.

*******For China, its investments are both economic and political. The Balkans form an important corridor along Beijing’s OBOR Initiative and also promise to further China’s influence in European politics. Chinese shipping giant Cosco has acquired a controlling stake in Greece’s Piraeus port, the country’s largest. The Chinese have already turned it into one of the world’s top 50 ports in terms of container volume.

That was only the first step. China wants to transform Piraeus into a European beachhead. For Europe-bound Chinese ships, which usually travel through the Suez Canal before heading to a northern port such as Rotterdam or Hamburg, Piraeus’ relative proximity makes is a more attractive option, if the Balkans can be provided with modern roads and rails on which the freight can travel.
*******Beijing’s Balkan backdoor, Politico, By Matthew Karnitschnig, July 13, 2017

Romania

*”Romania is located at the intersection of the EU, the Balkans and the former Soviet countries, Romania is crossed by three important Pan-European transportation corridors. As a major crossroad for international economic exchange in Europe, the country’s leading seaport, Constanta, is the biggest and busiest in the entire Black Sea region, capable of hosting vessels of more than 150,000 tons.”

Romania has abundant high quality natural resources. They include mineral deposits such as oil and gas, as well as highly fertile agricultural land. In recent years, investment has been made in energy, machinery, healthcare and transport, which should help Romania achieve its EU 2020 targets, particularly in R&D spending and improvements in energy efficiency.

********“Romania can develop an energy center and can become one of China’s long-term economic partners in the energy field. Romania has a huge processing capacity of 5 million tons in good, competitive refineries and this should be an asset to put on the table for Silk Road development. Romania was the first country to exploit petroleum by training petroleum engineers and building one of the first refineries, and it has not lost this knowledge and expertise.”

“OBOR is the project of the century because it has many stakeholders and will produce manifold effects on the countries involved. There are also a large number of challenges that lie ahead for the Chinese institutions in charge of this project,” believes Liviu Muresan, president of EURISC, a Bucharest-based think tank that has been working with Chinese academics, researchers, and China-based think tanks for many years.

Romania has expertise in critical infrastructures, ranging from the maritime field to space. Space is a key enabler for critical infrastructure that coordinates systems on Earth, and the field is usually approached through joint projects because one country cannot manage all the risks. EURISC has introduced the critical infrastructure dimension in the OBOR Initiative during discussions with Chinese partners, think-tanks, and the China National Petroleum Corporation.

“Expertise in resilience and critical infrastructure is something few organizations possess. The Shanghai Institute for International Studies, an influential Chinese think tank both in China and abroad, considered EURISC’s contribution on “Critical Infrastructure Perspective on the Belt and Road Initiative and its Opportunities and Challenges” to be a useful conceptual approach for research and cooperation within the 16+1 initiative and OBOR Initiative.”
********The Impact of China’s One Belt, One Road on Romania, Geopolitical Monitor, By Marcela Ganea, December 19, 2016

Serbia

*”Serbia is a landlocked country situated in the centre of the Balkan Peninsula in Southeast Europe. As a viable platform for customs-free exports to a market of almost 800 million people, Serbia enjoys free trade with the EU. It is also the only country outside of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that has a free trade agreement (FTA) with Russia. In January 2014, Serbia officially commenced EU membership negotiations (with full membership expected in 2020).”

*******“President Xi Jinping of China chose an industrial town on the Danube River to announce that Serbia was at the center of a $900 billion OBOR infrastructure initiative. Standing on the grounds of a Communist-era steel plant in Smederevo, about 28 miles east of Belgrade, the capital, Mr. Xi promised to pour money into roads and railways to create a transport corridor for Chinese goods to flow to West European markets. Called the New Silk Road, the route would run from China to Germany, via the port of Piraeus in Greece, passing through the Balkans.”

During Mr. Xi’s state visit, he said China would bring more jobs, improve living standards and lift the country’s economic growth. More important, by opening its economy to China, Serbia cemented Beijing’s support against European Union pressure to recognize Kosovo’s independence.

Some in China have questioned the economic viability of Beijing’s investment spree. And outside of China, some fear that China’s ambitions would keep the authoritarian leaders of countries like Serbia in power and leave the nations deep in debt and stuck with environmentally flawed projects.

Now, China’s ambitions in the Balkan region have set up a potential clash with the European Union’s plans, with countries like Serbia placing themselves in the middle.
*******As China Moves In, Serbia Reaps Benefits, With Strings Attached, New York Times, By Barbara Surk, Sept. 9, 2017

Slovenia

*Slovenia borders Italy, Austria, Croatia and Hungary. It stretches across the Alps, the Dinaric Alps and the Pannonian Plain to the Mediterranean. “Slovenia, has a superb geographical position at the heart of the region. Intersected by traditional trade and transport routes, Slovenia is the location of choice for international companies. The two Pan-European transport corridors intersect at the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana. Shipping to Slovenia’s only cargo port, Port of Koper, means gaining 7 to 10 days for ships arriving from Asia compared with sailing to Europe’s northern ports.”

Slovenia’s key industries include logistics and distribution, automotive, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, electrical engineering and electronics, machinery, metalworking and wood-processing.

Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar had a meeting with the Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of China, Li Keqiang that focused on deepening economic cooperation, the opportunities offered by the 16+1 initiative, and Slovenia’s role in the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative, which it formally joined in November, 2017.

*********“The Slovenian PM placed particular emphasis during the meeting on a number of highly promising areas, such as cooperation in the civil aviation sector, the introduction of direct flights between Slovenia and China and investment in airport capacities, the automotive and high-tech industries, and science. Agriculture and tourism are two other promising sectors. The number of Chinese tourists visiting Slovenia and Europe has grown significantly in recent times, and further growth is anticipated.”
*********PM at summit of Central and Eastern European countries and China, Government of the Republic of Slovenia, November 29, 2017

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