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Poland establishing itself as China’s link to Europe
Author :  Du Mei, Yang Xue Source : Chinese Social Sciences Today 2016-03-01
Mirosław Gajewski has been the Polish ambassador to China since July 2015. From 1978 to 1979, he studied law at Warsaw University. In 1985, Gajewski graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and began his career in diplomacy. He served as the Polish consul-general in Hong Kong from 2001 to 2004 and as ambassador to Vietnam from 2004 to 2010. He was deputy director and director of the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s Consular Department from 2010 to 2012 and director-general of the Foreign Service from 2012 to 2015.
China and Poland both suffered great tragedies during World War II, which fostered empathy between the peoples of the two nations. In 1949, after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Poland immediately established diplomatic ties. Since then, China’s friendship with Poland has continued through bilateral cooperation in many areas. 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. CSST reporters sat down with Polish ambassador Mirosław Gajewski to discuss Poland’s development and China-Poland relations.
CSST: As a Central European country, Poland is a bridge between China and the continent. Poland’s role is becoming even more important now that China is implementing the new action plans for the “Belt and Road” initiative. What are your thoughts on this initiative? What opportunities will it bring to countries along the route, especially China and Poland?
Gajewski: It’s a comprehensive link between Asia and Europe, with China at its core. It’s not purely an economic, trade or infrastructure plan. In my view, it could be the beginning of Asia-Europe integration.
Poland welcomes this initiative and the opportunities it brings. Poland has an advanced railway network and hopes to grow into a logistics hub for China and Europe. There is a train running between Suzhou and Warsaw now, and another one between Chengdu and Lodz, and the latter has already begun to ship Polish products to western China. We believe region-to-region development has great potential.
Also, we expect the “Belt and Road” initiative to enhance people-to-people exchanges and promote mutual understanding among participants on the route.
More importantly, in order to ensure the initiative will generate results, all players will need to commit to preserving the stability and security of all countries along the route.
In all, the initiative is a huge basket filled with opportunities. I’m looking forward to seeing the achievement it will make in the future.
CSST: Now Poland is among the 52 founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which is a key mechanism for implementing the policy of the “Belt and Road.” What’s your opinion of the bank and Poland’s decision to take part? What role will the bank play in promoting the growth of its members as well as other countries and regions in the world?
Gajewski: I think the bank is quite successful. It’s amazing to see the formation of a worldwide financial institution within only two years. We believe our participation in the AIIB will strengthen economic and political cooperation with Asia.
Poland and China have a strategic partnership. Poland is obliged to support China’s proposal. In the meantime, it is also practical for Poland to join the bank. AIIB’s main goal is to develop infrastructure projects, including railway connections, roads and telecommunication. By participating in the bank, we hope to not only gain investment in this aspect but also to facilitate our economy. As China’s main point of access to Europe, Poland also aspires to enhance its presence in Central Asia by being part of the bank.
CSST: In terms of economic cooperation, could you please give us a brief introduction about the current investment environment in Poland? What kinds of measures has the Polish government taken to attract foreign capital? What’s your suggestion for Chinese enterprises that are interested in investing in Poland?
Gajewski: Poland is a highly attractive location for investment and business expansion. According to a report on European attractiveness by Ernst & Young, in the next three years, Poland will be the second-most attractive investment destination in Europe, overtaking the United Kingdom, France and Russia. Highlighting Poland’s stable macroeconomic situation, the report mentions the availability of well-qualified and productive employees as a key strength as well as it business-friendly climate and transparent tax and legal systems.
Other reasons for its attractiveness as an investment destination include competitive labor costs, a huge domestic market, a location at the crossroads of Eastern and Western Europe, as well as numerous tax breaks and incentives for investors. Poland has consistently moved up in investment rankings over the years, as the government continue to make successive improvements to the business environment.
Poland has 14 special economic zones (SEZs), which are administratively separate parts of Polish territory allocated for the running of businesses on preferential terms. Businesses investing in SEZs can count on tax breaks and other incentives and can be assured of a specially prepared site. Each SEZ has its own focus. Some specialize in serving small and medium-sized enterprises, while others support manufacturing.
The amount of Chinese investment in Poland is not large now, but it is growing all the time.
CSST: China and Poland established diplomatic relations in 1949 immediately after the People’s Republic of China was founded. We have maintained close economic and people-to-people exchanges, and the two economies are complementary to each other in many ways. In which fields do you think we should strengthen cooperation?
Gajewski: There are three important areas we are now working to promote. One is tourism. Poland is an attractive tourist destination. If you combine Poland with other central European countries, like Hungary and the Czech Republic, it could be a very interesting trip. But now, the number of Chinese tourists to Poland is very small, which means that there is great potential. Actually, we are going to open our tourism agencies in Beijing, and China and Poland will sign a special memorandum of understanding in this area.
We will do whatever possible to attract Chinese tourists. Right now, we have a direct flight from Warsaw to Beijing, and the number of flights will be increased. Also within the country, everywhere is near the train or can be reached by car. It is very convenient.
The second area is educational exchanges. We have a demographic decline now in Poland. The number of students in Polish universities and other higher education institutions has decreased by half a million. So our universities have full capacity to receive new students. We plan to sign an agreement, which is under negotiation now, on mutual recognition of university diplomas, based on which we expect to receive more Chinese students.
The third area is regional cooperation. We have more than 60 agreements between different regions and cities in Poland and China, but some of them are not working. We will review all these agreements, and concentrate on real cooperation. Regional cooperation has great potential to promote people-to-people exchanges as well as cultural communication.
CSST: Could you tell our Chinese readers about the development of think tanks in Poland? How do think tanks impact decision making in Poland? Is it possible to promote cooperation between Chinese and Polish think tanks?
Gajewski: Despite the differences in our political systems, the role of think tanks seems to be quite similar. They should be perceived as advisory bodies and a source of expertise for our decision-makers. Of course, the scale is quite different. There are not as many think tanks in Poland, especially affiliated with the Polish government or ministries. It means that they are not as influential as Chinese think tanks.
Undoubtedly, the Center of Eastern Studies is one of the most renowned think tanks in Poland. That is why its experts and expertise are highly appreciated among foreign partners, including the Chinese. Recently, Liu Zuokui, director of the Department of Central and Eastern European Studies, Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, visited Poland and met with Polish experts from Center of Eastern Studies and Polish Institute of International Affairs to discuss the establishment of a consortium of Chinese and CEEC think tanks in the framework of 16+1 cooperation.