Two months ago, Chinese premier Li Keqiang visited Central and Eastern Europe, and attended a regional summit in Bucharest, Romania. This visit coincided with the conclusion of several business deals.
One of these deals concerns infrastructure and transport systems. China and Romania have agreed on the construction of a high-speed rail network connecting Constanta on the Black Sea to Bucharest and then maybe onto Budapest in Hungary.
Other countries showed interest in similar proposals; another high-speed train line may be built between Budapest and Belgrade in Serbia.
What can we learn from this partnership?
Firstly, China has gained a real expertise in high-speed rail. After building an impressive high-speed rail network in its homeland, China can now export its know-how, which will help its diplomatic relations.
Secondly, this also shows the disparities in high-speed rail development within Europe. Whereas the Eurostar has connected Paris and London for almost twenty years, rail transportation in Central and Eastern Europe still suffers from poor infrastructure.
How should Europe feel about this Chinese offer?
Of course, Central and Eastern Europeans can only welcome this opportunity that will surely boost their development.
However, some would deplore the fact that China has succeeded where the EU has failed. Why does Romania have to turn to China to get this high-speed rail network? Why hasn’t the EU launched a similar programme already?
Maybe the most important point regarding the nature of this project is the way this agreement has been reached. China will use this project as a showcase for operations in other countries, and so offered very attractive conditions for the construction of this network. Usually, before deciding on this kind of large-scaled investment, tenders are required and competition among private companies is the rule.
There is no problem using Chinese technologies for constructing and operating high-speed rail networks in Europe, as long as they are the best solution, but there needs to be fair competition among companies – this is a key principle of the EU. Furthermore, we should question if cooperation between China and EU member states should be focused solely on the financing of infrastructures, when there a broader exchange, both technologically and culturally, could be developed.