BEIJING – The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will facilitate win-win cooperation between China and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) countries, according to global accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Chinese businesses used to be more inclined to invest in resource-rich countries such as Russia and Kazakhstan, Piotr Romanowski, PwC partner on advisory business in CEE countries, told Xinhua.
“The Belt and Road Initiative has led to a massive change. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from China in Poland and the Czech Republic in 2016 was higher than the previous 15 years combined,” Romanowski said. Total FDI from China to the 16 CEE countries amounted to more than $9 billion in 2016, up substantially from around $3 billion in 2010, official data showed.
“China’s economic miracle had always been something on TV but in recent years surging investment from Chinese companies has brought real business opportunities to the region,” Romanowski said.
The Belt and Road Initiative aims to build trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe and Africa based on ancient land and maritime trade routes, with the CEE as a critical link. It has been considered China’s way to promote mutual development in the world.
After several years of preparation and exploration, Chinese companies have started to boost their investment and presence in CEE countries, Romanowski said.
“CEE countries boast huge investment potential,” he said, citing cooperation in various areas from infrastructure to manufacturing and technology.
China and CEE countries have worked together to improve transport networks, including Serbia’s E763 highway project and the overhaul of the Budapest-Belgrade railway, as well as other infrastructure projects, such as a thermal power plant in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Agnieszka Gajewska, another PwC partner who specializes in capital and infrastructure projects, described infrastructure as the backbone for China-CEE collaboration.
“In a crucial position of the routes of the Belt and Road, many CEE countries still have poor infrastructure and low per capita GDP and need to improve their airports, railways, and roads, where Chinese companies have greater advantages than investors from other parts of the world,” Gajewska said.
At a high-level meeting in November, China proposed to strengthen innovation cooperation with CEE countries, with more energy to be put into industrial parks in capacity, energy, logistics, and agriculture.
To support expanded cooperation, the second phase of the China-CEE Investment Cooperation Fund worth 1 billion U.S. dollars has been established in the Hungarian capital Budapest.
Romanowski said he believes Chinese investment will continue to see robust growth in CEE countries along with closer economic ties between the two sides. “The only question is how fast and how much.” NNI