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Panel Discussion on 6 June 2019

Panel Discussion on 6 June 2019

China's new Silk Road in the Western Balkans

Gabriel Lansky invited to a top-class panel discussion of Chinese infrastructure investments in Southeast Europe and beyond. Against the background of current debates about Chinese investments in the European economy, LGP organized an event on Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the New Silk Road. As part of this global investment offensive, China is financing numerous infrastructure projects in Eastern and Southeastern Europe with a specific focus on the Western Balkans, earning both applause and suspicions.

A panel moderated by the former top diplomat Wolfgang Petritsch and the China expert Prof. Richard Trappl discussed China's role in the Western Balkans

In his opening remarks, lawyer and law firm founder Gabriel Lansky outlined the framework conditions for Chinese involvement in the region and pleaded for a balance between European and Chinese interests for their mutual benefit. The renowned former publisher and editor-in-chief of Die Zeit, Theo Sommer, then presented his new book China First, thus providing an impetus and point of reference for the following discussion. One should neither underestimate China's rapid rise to a leading economic and political power nor fall into alarmism, demanded the sharp-sighted observer of world political events.

Theo Sommer, former editor-in-chief of "Die Zeit", presented his book "China First"

Afterwards, the ambassador of the People's Republic of China, LI Xiaosi, the former head of the European Union delegation in Beijing, Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, the China expert and author of the book "China verstehen. Vom Aufstieg zur Wirtschaftsmacht und der Eindämmungspolitik der USA” (Understanding China: On the ascent to economic power and the US’ policy of containment), Robert Fitzthum, exchanged views at the high-ranking panel. Also present on the panel were the three experts for transport and infrastructure Gerhard Gürtlich (Head of Section IV - Transport in the Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology), Imre Kern (State Secretary in the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure of the Republic of Serbia) and Alexander Schierhuber (Managing Director, Breitspur Planungsgesellschaft). The panel was moderated by Prof. Richard Trappl, Sinologist and Director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Vienna and Wolfgang Petritsch, former Ambassador, top Balkans expert and Senior Expert at LGP.

Hans Dietmar Schweisgut (former Head of Delegation of the EU to the People's Republic of China), H.E. Ambassador LI Xiaosi, Alexander Schierhuber (Breitspur Planungsgesellschaft)

In the course of the debate, there was an intensive exchange of ideas between Ambassador LI and former head of delegation Schweisgut, during which the different positions of China and the European Union were laid out in detail. Despite some differences regarding the modalities and technical details of Chinese investments, all participants agreed that the development of infrastructure in the Western Balkans and beyond is of utmost importance for the economic development of the entire region. Head of delegation Schweisgut stressed the recent, in his eyes very positive, announcements by Beijing on controversial aspects of the global Belt and Road Initiative and called on China to follow up on them. Europe should cooperate with China where it can and protect its interests where necessary, said the former head of delegation.

China expert Fitzthum pointed out the necessity of a European-Chinese understanding against the background of geopolitical power shifts, while State Secretary Kern reported in detail on Serbia's positive experiences with Chinese projects, which make a central contribution to the country's economic development.

Both the managing director of Breitspur, Schierhuber, and the head of section, Gürtlich, finally emphasized the urgency of an infrastructure expansion, especially in the railway sector, in view of the constantly increasing traffic volume. Both are convinced that the overland route between Europe and Asia in particular will become increasingly important in the future and see great economic potential for Austria as a Central European hub for the international movement of goods.

Following the panellists’ statements, the discussion was opened to questions from the audience and a lively debate with the 130 participants, including numerous diplomats, representatives of Austrian ministries as well as journalists and experts from the region, ensued. LGP is proud to have contributed to the integrative consideration of Chinese engagement in Europe with this high-calibre podium.

Hans Dietmar Schweisgut (former Head of Delegation of the EU to the People's Republic of China), H.E. Ambassador LI Xiaosi, Alexander Schierhuber (Breitspur Planungsgesellschaft), Imre Kern (State Secretary Infrastructure, Serbia)

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