Xi’s visit set to draw Central Europe in Belt and Road plan

China is set to unveil another offshoot of its One Belt One Road (OBOR) connectivity network by investing in a Grand Canal that would link landlocked countries of Central Europe with the sea.

If everything goes according to plans, Chinese President Xi Jinping will push for the construction of the Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal, during his visit next week to the Czech Republic. The strategic canal — a pet project of Czech President Milos Zeman — would connect three major European rivers and provide ships, an outlet to the sea. The Y-shaped canal would link with the North Sea at Hamburg. The Black Sea would be accessed at the Romanian port of Constanta, and Poland’s Szczecin port would provide an outreach to the Baltic Sea.

The headquarter building of China Investment Corporation (CIC) is pictured in Beijing on March 1, 2016. If everything goes according to plans, Chinese President Xi Jinping will push for the construction of the Danube-Oder-Elbe Canal, during his visit next week to the Czech Republic. The Y-shaped canal would link with the North Sea at Hamburg. The Black Sea would be accessed at the Romanian port of Constanta, and Poland’s Szczecin port would provide an outreach to the Baltic Sea.

OBOR gathering pace in Eurasia

The construction of the Grand Canal would see the merger of the land and the maritime hubs of OBOR, which is rapidly advancing in Eurasia.

In comments attributed to Vojtech Filip, vice-chairman of the Czech parliament, the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post reported that China and the Czech Republic would be involved in joint funding, pooling in 1 billion Euros for the phase-1 of the project.

‘Will help revive ancient Silk Road’

A write-up in the China’s state-run People’s Daily had earlier acknowledged that President Xi’s visit, which begins on Monday, would yield more opportunities to implement the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR) — both integral parts of China’s OBOR for the revival of the ancient Silk Road.

The daily pointed out that Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries are docking their development strategies with the OBOR, covered by a jointly developed mid-term cooperation plan. China has targeted infrastructure development in the CEE countries — its intent evident from its focus on constructing the flagship Belgrade-to-Budapest high speed railway.

Piraeus as China’s trade hub

Once completed, the rail upgrade will dovetail with the Chinese plan to refurbish Greece’s main port of Piraeus. Linked with the CEE railway, Piraeus would become the hub of China’s trade with Europe, along a land-cum-sea corridor.

China’s foray in CEE countries is part of a Beijing-centered exercise to draw the economies of Europe into the OBOR framework. Already, top European icons, including Germany, France and Britain, defying pressures from the United States, have become members of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The 57-nation lender is primed to fund infrastructure projects in Asia, which can easily integrate with the OBOR plan.

‘Starved Europe needs the investment’

“Economically unstable, Europe is struggling for recovery. Therefore it has a strong need of the Chinese market and investment,” says Cui Hongjian, head of the Institute of European Studies of Chinese Academy

of Social Science.

With the CEE countries in focus, China has joined the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) — a lender that was established primarily to fund the Eastern Europe economies after the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991.

People’s Daily is pointing out that after his visit to the Czech Republic, Mr. Xi would have already covered “new” and “old” Europe, having already visited Britain, France, Germany Netherlands, Belgium as well as the European Union headquarters, over the past two years.