Ukrainian leader supports 'Silk Road' zone

Updated: 2013-12-06 00:11

By Qin Jize and Zhang Fan in Beijing and Fu Jing in Brussels (China Daily)

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Ukrainian leader supports 'Silk Road' zone

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych in Beijing on Thursday. [Photo/Xinhua]

Xi, Yanukovych witness signing of 8 agreements on energy and mining

President Xi Jinping and his visiting Ukrainian counterpart, Viktor Yanukovych, agreed on Thursday to deepen cooperation in a variety of areas to advance their strategic partnership.

After a two-hour meeting, the two leaders also witnessed the signing of eight deals in areas such as new energy, mining, and economic and technical cooperation.

Xi called on the two countries to enhance their work in agriculture, energy, infrastructure construction, finance and high-tech, and said he hopes that Ukraine can create more favorable conditions for Chinese investment.

Yanukovych echoed Xi's remarks, saying Ukraine supports China's proposal of establishing a "Silk Road" economic zone and is ready to participate in its construction.

Yanukovych's visit came amid protests in Kiev over the Ukrainian government's decision to turn its back on a deal with the European Union that would have tied Ukraine's future more to Brussels rather than neighboring Russia.

Cui Hongjian, director of European studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said China has no intention of joining the tug of war between the EU and Russia for influence on Ukraine.

"Ukraine wants to have a broader stage for economic development, and China is one of the choices. In current circumstances, it's reasonable for Ukraine to find a third party that will be conducive to its own development," Cui said.

Jia Ruixia, a researcher on European affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Ukraine's political instability is rooted in the underdevelopment of the country's economy, which can be improved through its commercial cooperation with China.

For China, it can learn from Ukraine's advanced nuclear power technology through the implementation of major projects, as bilateral economic ties are entering a new development phase as a result of several big projects, she said.

China is Ukraine's second-largest trading partner. Bilateral trade regained momentum this year after a slowdown in 2012. Overall trade between the two countries rose 7.8 percent year-on-year in the January-to-September period, but bilateral investment lagged behind, Vice-Premier Ma Kai said in a business forum on Thursday.

Zhang Wei, vice-chairman of the China Council for Promotion of International Trade, said: "Chinese businesses could make full use of the advantageous position of Ukraine, Europe's second-largest country in terms of area, which connects the Eastern and Central European markets."

However, experts think Ukraine's social instability could hinder further economic cooperation between China and Ukraine.

"China will never interfere in any other country's internal affairs, but an unstable Ukraine does not meet China's expectations because the instability will not only restrain Ukraine's own development but also harm regional stability," Cui said.

China's experience shows that prosperity and development can only be brought about by social stability, he added.

Besides social stability, Ukraine also needs to establish a mature legal system to protect foreign investment there, a development Jia said is vital to attract more Chinese companies to a Ukrainian market with a better environment and lower risks.

Klaus Ebermann, former EU ambassador to China, said the visit of Ukraine's leader to China is timely and hoped Yanukovych can make good use of the chance to strengthen Ukraine's partnership with China.

"I think this is a learning trip for the Ukrainian president mainly because China's experiences and lessons in previous decades can be a reference for this country to solve domestic challenges," Ebermann said.

Ebermann said Ukraine should follow China's lead to focus on economic development, poverty reduction and improve social inclusion. And in turn, China can offer Ukraine its hard-won experiences in accelerating economic growth.

"The Ukrainian government should learn how China helps people get employed, especially when it comes to solving youth unemployment," he said.

Ebermann said that China, famous for its manufacturing skills and market, and Ukraine, which is rich in raw materials and has easier access to the European market, have the potential to strengthen economic cooperation and partnership by encouraging bilateral trade and investment.

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Li Jiabao contributed to this story.