China's new Silk Road initiative brings new opportunities for cooperation between China and the European Union (EU). As China's leading trading partner, the EU should respond actively to the initiative in order to formulate its own interests in economic growth and political influence, experts told Xinhua in recent interviews.
China in 2013 proposed to build the Silk Road Economic Belt, which links China with Europe through Central and Western Asia by inland routes, and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road connecting China with Southeast Asia, Africa and Europe by sea.
The Belt and Road Initiative aims at promoting policy coordination, infrastructure connectivity, trade and financial integration as well as cultural exchange. "In my view, this initiative is the most important strategic proposal on the planet," said Helga Zepp-LaRouche, founder and president of the Schiller Institute, an international think tank.
She said that the Belt and Road Initiative is based on win-win cooperation and overcomes geopolitical confrontations which threaten to "bring the world close to war. It has a potential to help the world to get rid of its current crises." Currently, over 70 countries and international organizations have taken part in the Belt and Road Initiative and some 30 countries have signed deals with China to jointly push forward the initiative.
"If it succeeds, the initiative will create new wealth growth opportunities in the vast Eurasian continent and seas," said Gu Xuewu, director of Center for Global Studies at the University of Bonn, "Its importance cannot be underestimated." For China-EU cooperation, it also means great opportunities, he added.
Since 2004, the EU has been China's leading trading partner. "The Belt and Road Initiative can help to strengthen Chinese-European trade relations by establishing new transport routes and by improving the investment environment in countries along the new Silk Road," said Benno Bunse, CEO of Germany's economic development agency Germany Trade & Invest.
"German trading companies for example can profit by new and more efficient logistics routes between China and Europe along the New Eurasian Land Bridge," he said, "Investment in countries along the new Silk Road such as Kazakhstan, Iran, India or Sri Lanka, can help to open up new markets."
Bunse expected Chinese and German companies to cooperate on projects as suppliers of special-purpose machinery, building materials or professional and management services. "German companies hope to gain benefits from projects under the Belt and Road framework. That is also one reason why the German government decided to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)," he said.
Among the 20 non-regional founding members of AIIB, an international bank initiated by China to finance projects in the Asia-Pacific region, 17 come from Europe. According to Gu, Europe's favorable attitude toward the Belt and Road Initiative is due to its own strategic interests.
"It will be beneficial for Germany and Europe if the initiative leads to infrastructural modernization of the region along the Silk Road and makes it a new strategic hinterland for Europe's economic growth," Gu said.
"This is a vital interest for Europe," emphasized Zepp-LaRouche, "Right now, if you don't develop the Middle East, Southwest Asia, Africa, the refugee stream will become bigger and bigger." Cooperation has already started. In June last year, China and the EU declared they would build synergies between the Belt and Road Initiative and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker's 315 billion euros (350 billion U.S. dollars) investment plan.
However, experts said the EU could do more to engage with China under the Belt and Road framework. "The next step for the EU is to reach out to China and communicate a desire to work together on infrastructure cooperation, not just in Europe (as is currently the norm), but also in Europe's greater neighborhood," said Netherlands Institute of International Relations researchers Jikkie Verlare and Frans-Paul van der Putten in a policy brief.