I am delighted to gather with old and new friends here to discuss the way forward for deepening cooperation between China and the Central and Eastern European Countries. On behalf of the Chinese government, let me first thank the Hungarian government and Prime Minister Orban for the excellent arrangements you have made for the summit. I also wish to welcome the European Union, Austria, Switzerland, Greece, Belarus and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to the summit as observers, Prime Minister said in Budapest on 27 November 2017.
This year marks the fifth anniversary of "16+1" cooperation. Over the past five years, guided by summits such as this and supported by maturing mechanisms, "16+1" cooperation has grown from strength to strength and yielded significant results in various fields. It has developed into an important channel of trans-regional cooperation and an eye-catching platform of open multilateral cooperation.
― Over the past five years, we have put in place a sound framework and a solid foundation for our cooperation. Taking a forward-looking approach, we have formulated the Medium-Term Agenda for Cooperation Between China and Central and Eastern European Countries, issued six outcome documents, and established over time 20-plus institutional exchange platforms spanning trade, agriculture, health, tourism and at the subnational level. We have put forward several major initiatives, including the Budapest-Belgrade railway, the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Line, the Adriatic-Baltic-Black Sea Seaport Cooperation, and rolled out more than 200 specific measures. Together, these actions form a blueprint for "16+1" cooperation and solidified its foundation.
― Over the past five years, we have built a strong momentum in our cooperation and reaped a sizable harvest. The investment by Chinese companies in the 16 CEE countries has increased from US$3 billion to over US$9 billion in cumulative terms. Our trade expanded by 4.3% last year despite lackluster global trade and surged by 14.1% in the first three quarters of this year. From 2012 to 2016, China's imports of agricultural products from CEE countries rose by 13.7% on an average annual basis. A number of flagship infrastructure projects have entered into operation. The China-Europe freight trains made over 6,000 trips, reaching eight cities in four CEE countries. Over the past five years, six direct flights have been opened between the two sides. People-to-people exchange and cooperation has become increasingly dynamic, as evidenced by such popular events as the Year of Promotion of Tourism Cooperation, the Year of People-to-People and Cultural Exchanges and the Year of Media Cooperation between China and CEE countries. All the 16 CEE countries have become approved destinations for Chinese tourists, which has raised the number of visits by Chinese tourists to the region from 280,000 to 930,000. The number of two-way student exchange has doubled.
― Over the past five years, we have pulled together to address challenges and pursue common development. The lingering impact of the financial crisis and the difficult and tortuous global recovery have posed serious challenges to the development of China and CEE countries. Nevertheless, we have responded to the uncertainty of the international situation with the stability of "16+1" cooperation and boosted our own development. Over the past five years, China's economy has maintained a medium-high average annual growth of over 7%, while CEE countries have successfully weathered the European debt crisis and registered a growth rate of over 3% in recent years, making it a leading performer in the European economy.
The key to the fast development and vitality of "16+1" cooperation lies in our commitment to the principle of "equal consultation, mutual benefit, openness and inclusiveness, being results-oriented and innovative" in developing our cooperation. Equal consultation means we believe countries are all equal regardless of size, and issues should be addressed through discussion among all instead of being dominated by one. We should strive to maximize our common ground, minimize differences, and optimize our role in the cooperation. Mutual benefit means that under the principle of government support, corporate initiative and market-based operation and in keeping with international practices, we have leveraged our comparative advantages to make the pie of common interests bigger. Openness and inclusiveness means we have worked together in coordination and mutual support and in an open, fair and transparent manner. The comfort levels of all sides have been accommodated. Together, we tap potential by two-way opening, take on challenges with interconnected efforts and seek development through cooperation. Being results-oriented and innovative means that with a focus on such key cooperation areas as trade, connectivity, industrial capacity and people-to-people ties, we have taken concrete steps to tackle problems, improve institutions, expand cooperation areas and introduce new policies, injecting sustained impetus into "16+1" cooperation.
One can only seize the moment when one keenly observes the trend. In the current global context of significant development, change and adjustment, peace and development remains the theme of our times. On the other hand, uncertainties and destabilizing factors still abound. Global economic growth lacks momentum, regional hotspots keep flaring up, and non-traditional security threats including terrorism, the refugee issue and climate change continue to worsen. These common challenges require common responses.
The 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held last month underscored China's commitment to peaceful development, to a new form of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation, and to advancing the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.
China firmly supports the European integration process, and respects the European countries' choices of their development paths. As an incubator for trans-regional practical cooperation, "16+1" cooperation is an important component of and beneficial complement to the China-Europe relationship, and will help promote the European integration process and make the development of China-Europe relations more even. China has all along pursued its cooperation with CEE countries in the broader context of China-Europe relations and under the framework of relevant EU laws and regulations. We welcome the participation of countries outside this region in tripartite cooperation under "16+1" framework to achieve more win-win and all-win results.
As "16+1" cooperation enters a new stage of development, it enjoys a more solid foundation, clearer objectives and stronger driving forces. The theme of this year's meeting, "Deepening economic, trade and financial cooperation for win-win development", is highly relevant as it responds to the needs and concerns of all parties. China wishes to put forward the following suggestions for our future work.
First, we need to expand economic and trade cooperation. Given the pick-up in the world economy and rebound in global trade this year, we must seize the opportunity to advance trade and investment liberalization and facilitation and unlock the potential of our economic cooperation. China is prepared to import more high-quality products from CEE countries such as meat, dairy products, aquatic products, fruits, honey and wine to meet the diverse needs of Chinese consumers and promote balanced growth of two-way trade. During the Summit, China will sign inspection and quarantine protocols with six CEE countries on their alfalfa, bumblebees, honey, animal feed and beef exports to China. We also welcome the active participation of CEE countries in the first-ever China International Import Expo to be held in Shanghai next year. China supports the establishment of "16+1" demonstration zones for economic cooperation and trade in Ningbo and other Chinese cities to serve as platforms for expanding trade and investment cooperation and provide fast tracks for CEE exports to China. We also support the set-up of a "16+1" SMEs Center, a consultative agency on "16+1" investment and trade, and a "16+1" agricultural cooperation demonstration zone in Bulgaria, which will be rolled out to more CEE countries.
Second, we need to enhance connectivity. Infrastructure development is high on the development agendas of many CEE countries; it is also a priority for "16+1" cooperation. In his meetings with CEE leaders, President Xi Jinping underscored several times the significance of making "16+1" cooperation a springboard for the further implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative in the European economic circle. During this summit, China will sign cooperation agreements with Estonia, Slovenia and Lithuania, thus having all the 16 CEE countries on board for the Belt and Road endeavor. In keeping with the principle of achieving shared growth through consultation and collaboration, China is ready to work with all of you to make the CEE region an early beneficiary of the outcomes of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, and speed up the implementation of key connectivity projects to promote land, maritime, air and cyberspace links. China proposes an early launch of the feasibility study for the extension of the China-Europe Land-Sea Express Line to Austria. China supports holding China-CEEC Customs Cooperation Forum, enhancing exchange of customs database and mutual recognition of supervision decisions, and jointly introducing more customs clearance facilitation measures. China supports the development of trans-Eurasian transport networks through the launch of more China-Europe freight train services and direct flights and the establishment of logistics hubs in the CEE region.
Third, we need to strengthen cooperation on innovation. To transform and upgrade our industries through innovation is a common goal of China and CEE countries. China suggests that we explore, based on commercial rules, a format for "16+1" industrial parks focusing on key areas such as industrial capacity, energy, logistics and agriculture. Different parks may have different features reflecting the unique industrial strengths of respective countries, so that given time, a network of diverse industrial parks will take shape. China has proposed a "16+1" science and technology partnership program. We support "16+1" Conference on Innovation Cooperation and encourage the establishment of joint labs and science and technology parks as well as personnel exchanges. Businesses from CEE countries are most welcome to take part in the Made in China 2025 initiative. We will also encourage well-established entrepreneurship and innovation demonstration centers in China to cooperate with CEE companies to foster new platforms for innovation-driven development under "16+1" framework.
Fourth, we need to bolster financial support. Thanks to our joint efforts, multiple financial instruments have been introduced in the past five years, including the US$10 billion special credit line, the China-CEEC framework for investment and financing and the China-CEEC Financial Holding Company, which have provided financing support for deepening "16+1" cooperation. During this summit, two more measures will be introduced. Under the auspices of the China-CEEC Inter-Bank Association to be officially inaugurated today, China Development Bank will provide two billion euros equivalent development finance facility; secondly, the second stage of the China-CEEC Investment Cooperation Fund has been set up with a capitalization of US$1 billion, which will mainly be channeled to the CEE region. In promoting the internationalization of the RMB, China is ready to intensify its financial cooperation with CEE countries, including expanding bilateral currency swaps and local currency settlement. We support companies from CEE countries in issuing Panda bonds in China, and support financial institutions on both sides in conducting RMB financing. We may further explore multiple formats of market-based investment and financing to provide the financial lifeblood necessary for our cooperation.
Fifth, we need to energize people-to-people exchange. The more vibrant people-to-people exchange, the stronger the popular support for "16+1" cooperation. We are ready to carry out more people-to-people exchange programs with CEE countries that cater to the needs of and bring real benefits to the people. We need to work more closely on tourism to make it easier, safer and more comfortable for our people, who should be able to travel with simplified visa and customs procedures. This will be conducive to the reaching of the goal of two million tourist visits between China and CEE countries by 2020. In the coming year, China will provide 200 free training opportunities on tourism for CEE countries and send around one hundred travel agents and journalists to Central and Eastern Europe to explore travel routes and report on tourist attractions. We support the establishment of a "16+1" cultural coordinating center and a youth development center, encourage the building of more traditional Chinese medicine centers and Chinese herbal plantation bases. Potential cooperation on sports, especially winter sports, and on the protection of women and children will be explored.
To expand educational exchange, China will provide no less than 5,000 government scholarships of all kinds to CEE countries in the coming five years. We should build on the success of the Year of China-CEEC Media Cooperation and follow through on our cooperation on policy exchange, news coverage, co-production and publishing. China proposes designating the year 2018 as the Year of Cooperation between Local Governments and Local Enterprises. We look forward to growing participation in the "16+1" Association of Governors of Provinces and Regions by local governments on both sides to turn it into an all-dimensional platform for more solid and in-depth growth of "16+1" cooperation.
We have an ancient adage in China, "A pagoda can be piled up with grains of sand, and a mountain can be formed with heaps of stones." Similarly, the renowned Hungarian poet Mihaly Vorosmarty wrote, "Let us, steadfast as ants, set down that which our brains, in the rare inspired hours, create, and when we have assembled every stone, we'll erect the Babel of a newer age." I am sure that when China and CEE countries work with common purposes and an unrelenting spirit, we will write new and brilliant chapters for "16+1" cooperation.