China vowed on Thursday to double its trade with Central and Eastern European countries to $100 billion by 2015, as Premier Wen Jiabao reassured leaders in the region that Beijing would deepen relations with these countries "with the greatest sincerity".
Polish officials, experts and investors welcomed Beijing's commitments, saying Poland will serve as an ideal gateway between China and the rest of Europe to boost trade and investment and help stabilize the European and global economy.
Beijing will offer $10 billion in loans to support partner projects in infrastructure, high-tech and the green economy for countries in the region, Wen said at the second annual China-Central and Eastern European Countries Economic Forum.
Last year's forum in Budapest, which Wen also attended and addressed, was a meeting of economic ministers. The summit this year, meanwhile, has drawn heads of government from 14 of the 16 nations in the region — including Croatia, Lithuania, Macedonia and Estonia — at the invitation of Poland.
In a time of considerable uncertainty in the global economy, cooperation suits the fundamental interests of both China and countries in the region, Wen said.
Beijing is willing to import more from the area and offer assistance to its companies coming to China for exhibitions and trade fairs, he said.
In terms of infrastructure development, Wen proposed to set up an expert committee on the construction of traffic networks to discuss joint venture possibilities in the region's highway and railway projects.
Marek Szostak, an official with the Polish Information and Foreign Investment Agency, said China has shown interest in infrastructure and renewable projects in Poland, but there is also huge potential in other sectors.
"I think China can also invest in our strategic sectors such as automobiles, electronics, aviation, modern services ... We have open-door policies to attract capital, whether it's from the West or East,"Szostak told China Daily.
He also said the two countries should accelerate the exchange of students and attract tourists from each other. "This will deepen mutual understanding and in turn boost economic and trade cooperation,"said Szostak.
Chinese investment in Poland is still at a low level: Only about 150 Chinese companies have invested in Poland so far with the contract capital of about $300 million.
Poland has access to seaports, cheap labor and free access to Europe, said Dominik Konieczny, an expert with the Poland-Asia Research Center. "I think all these advantages can help China expand investment in Poland,"Konieczny said.
Cooperation measures indicate that China has attached more importance to ties with countries from Central and Eastern Europe and tried to balance its relations with all EU members, said Zhao Junjie, an expert on European studies with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
He said the cooperation between China and Central and Eastern Europe had not been as strong as China's partnerships with Western Europe, so there is great potential.
Central and Eastern European countries need a new, dependable and competitive partner to help improve their development, because it has become more difficult for them to get support from Western Europe due to the financial crisis, Zhao said.
The pragmatic cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries will bring practical benefits to both and promote mutual trust and relations, said Cui Hongjian, an expert on European studies with the China Institute of International Studies.
Thursday's forum was attended by a delegation of 300 Chinese enterprises.
The economic forum and leaders' summit between China and the region should be held regularly, said Wen, who met separately with 13 prime ministers and Bosnia and Herzegovina's head of government, the chairman of its Council of Ministers, on Thursday. He met his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk and President Bronislaw Komorowski a day earlier.
The heads of government of China and Poland, strategic partners since last year, will meet every two years from now on, Tusk said on Wednesday, while stressing that China's cooperation with Poland and Central and Eastern European countries in general "has never been better".
"We're now at a historical moment,"Tusk said. The prospects for Polish-Chinese cooperation on new energy, particularly on shale gas, of which Warsaw holds considerable reserves, are enormous, he said.
Wen, the first Chinese premier to visit Poland in 25 years, endorsed the idea and said bilateral cooperation also ought to deepen in infrastructure, high-tech, finances, tourism and education.
"Although phenomenal changes have taken place in both the world and in our two countries, both sides have always understood and supported each other on respective issues of sovereignty and territorial integrity," Wen said.
Poland is the last leg of Wen's four-nation tour to Europe. Wen will visit Poland's Krakow on Friday before heading back to Beijing.