The opportunities and challenges of China-CEEC cooperation

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Skopje, capital of Macedonia [File photo/VCG]

Editor's note: The Fifth High-Level Think Tanks Symposium of China and Central & Eastern European Countries (CEEC) will be held in Macedonia's capital of Skopje between October 30 and 31. Ahead of the symposium, Anastas Vangeli, a doctoral researcher at the Polish Academy of Sciences shared his views on China-CEEC cooperation with 

The symposium, supported by the China-CEEC cooperation office of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is jointly organized by the Institute of European Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the China Foundation for International Studies, China Institute of International Studies, the Institute for Geostrategic Research and Foreign Policy of Macedonia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Over 300 participants are expected to attend, and more than 50 scholars will discuss "how to enhance and deepen China-CEEC cooperation" under the framework of the "16+1".

Q: Which words do you use to describe China-CEEC cooperation?

I think the keyword to describe China-CEEC cooperation is dialectics: dialectics between the old and the new, as China and CEEC go way back together, but are currently building a new relationship; dialectics between politics and economy, which is the essence of all China-led cooperation platforms; and dialectics between national and regional levels of cooperation, as it is a unique type of multilateral framework.

Q: What achievements have the "16+1 Cooperation" made over the past six years?

There is a cross-spectrum of opinions on what are the achievements and shortcomings of 16+1. For some, there is the growing economic cooperation – while others say that it is not sufficient. Some say political relations are flourishing – while others say they are becoming complicated. Some say the biggest achievements are in the domain of people to people exchanges – others say that the people to people exchanges yield little to no results. For me, cumulatively, the major achievement of 16+1 is that CEEC has now gained visibility and importance in China; China gained visibility and importance in the region; and the China-CEEC relationship gained visibility and importance in the world – although the meaning of the increased visibility and importance can be interpreted in various ways by various individuals and groups.

Q: What do you think of the role that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has played in enhancing China-CEEC cooperation?

I think that the BRI has provided a broader context and narrative for the China-CEEC cooperation, in terms of the trans-regional linkages, as CEEC is one of the areas where the BRI unfolds, but also in terms of the goals and functioning of cooperation. In fact, China-CEEC relations and 16+1 have little value if seen outside of the context of the BRI.

Q: What are the major challenges or difficulties that lay ahead for China and the CEEC to further enhance cooperation?

China-CEEC cooperation is a cooperation between highly asymmetrical sides, that in addition to all kinds of structural differences, also have a number of ideological divergences; and most importantly, they still do not know each other well. At the same time, China-CEEC relations do not happen in a vacuum: The world is becoming increasingly polarized as the U.S.-China trade war and ideological frictions increase. In Europe, the EU and Western European countries have made it clear they are not happy with how China-CEEC relations are proceeding. All of this yields a number of normative and practical issues for all sides involved.

Q: The 5th High-Level Think Tanks Symposium of China-CEEC Cooperation will be held in Macedonia's capital of Skopje from Oct 30 to 31. Do you have any expectations for the upcoming symposium? How significant is the symposium in promoting China-CEEC cooperation in the future?

As a Macedonian citizen, I am glad that there will be a high-level China-CEEC event held in my home country. These types of events serve to take stock of current developments and discuss the potential future developments. They are the main knowledge production venue for China-CEEC cooperation. They create and interpret meanings, add content to, and discuss the context of the cooperation. They come up with new concepts, and new policy ideas – or rationalize the existing ones. They provide reflection from the perspective of participants from different countries, who come from different areas of expertise, and are venues where these different perspectives take shape through dialogue and adapt to each other. For the participants, the think tank events are also a good opportunity to meet old friends, and make some new ones, and listen to what they have to say about topics that are of mutual interest.

The views and opinions expressed by the interviewee do not necessarily reflect those of

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