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Premier Li Keqiang visited Europe from April 8 to 12 for the China-EU leaders’ meeting, the eighth summit between China and Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs), and paid an official visit to the Balkan nation of Croatia. It marks the second trip by China’s top leaders to the European continent after President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Italy, Monaco and France from March 21 to 26, which highlights the significance of Europe in China’s diplomatic matrix.

The China-EU leaders’ meeting is the highest-level political dialogue mechanism between China and the EU and plays a strategic leading role in deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership. The EU is the strongest and most integrated regional cooperation organization in the world, as well as the largest trading partner of China. Despite the divisions between China and the EU, both sides are committed to safeguarding multilateralism and an open world economy, opposing trade protectionism and unilateralism, and improving global governance.

The meeting pointed out the direction for China and the EU to jointly face challenges and strengthen cooperation in the future, and enhance the stability, strategic significance and reciprocity of China-EU relations.

The “16+1 cooperation,” which is an important part and a beneficial component of China-EU cooperation, is not only conducive to the stability and development of the CEE region, the strengthening of bilateral and multilateral cooperation between China and the CEECs, but also promotes the balanced development of Europe and adds impetus to China-EU ties.

Over the past seven years since its inception, with the promotion of the annual summit between leaders of China and CEECs, “16+1 cooperation” has had its progress and achievements: It has built a number of policy communication platforms, improved the level of connectivity, promoted the steady growth of trade and investment, improved the framework of financial cooperation, and strengthened people-to-people ties.

During the latest summit, Greece joined the “16+1 cooperation” as a full member and the “16+1 Global Partnership Center” was officially established.

The year 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and some CEECs. The “16+1 cooperation” is of great significance for consolidating traditional friendship and promoting common development.

Li’s visit to Croatia, which is the first visit by a Chinese premier since the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Balkan state in 1992, is conducive to enhancing mutual understanding and political trust, promoting economic and trade cooperation and people-to-people exchanges, and boosting comprehensive cooperative partnership.

Croatia, located at the intersection of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, has abundant forest and water resources, and has developed tourism, shipbuilding and pharmaceutical industries.

With the development of the “16+1 cooperation” and the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the establishment of the new government of Croatia in 2016, China-Croatia relations are developing with a strong momentum. The two sides are embracing high-level exchanges, fruitful economic and trade cooperation, and increasingly active cultural exchanges.

Croatia is China’s second largest trading partner in the Western Balkans. The cooperation between enterprises of the two countries in infrastructure construction, energy and machinery manufacturing has been strengthened.

In 2017, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was signed between Croatia and China on jointly promoting the BRI.

During his visit to Croatia, Li attended the opening ceremony of the China-Croatia Culture and Tourism Year 2019, visited the Peljesac Bridge – a symbol of friendship and cooperation between the two countries, and witnessed the signing of government cooperation documents and commercial contracts, such as the MOU on building a new platform for investment cooperation.

Meanwhile, the two governments issued a joint statement expressing the wish to expand and deepen cooperation in the fields of economy and trade, investment, agriculture, transportation and logistics, to promote trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and to strengthen the cooperation between enterprises from the two countries.

Premier Li’s visit to Croatia has provided a blueprint for the future development of China-Croatia relations and added new meaning to ties.

The author is a research fellow at the Institute of Russian, Eastern European and Central Asian Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

(In association with Global Times)