LIVEBLOG: 16+1=?

On November 5, Riga is hosting a summit meeting between China and 16 countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Here is an attempt to describe what's happening.

Good morning summit fans! I'll be with you throughout the day, should you have nothing better to do.

The main event - which is actually fairly brief in duration - doesn't begin until this afternoon, but I need to catch a train into Riga (from the opposite direction to China), collect my accreditation, stake out a territory in the press centre, raid and rate the available snacks, steal some pads and pens and let you know if anything interesting happens beyond expressions of mutual good intentions. 

During the course of the day you can also watch various events live at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website HERE

Let's get things rolling with a welcome to Latvia. This video was made by the China Daily news channel and listed on the Chinese government's official web page as "Latvian bigwigs on China-CEE Summit".

In it, we learn Latvia is really pleased to be hosting the summit and President Raimonds Vejonis considers himself "results orientated". But one question looms large: where are the women - apart from sitting at cafe tables and walking around the central market?

Actually that will be something to look out for all day long - is this just a boys' club or are women allowed in too?

 

If you want to get an idea of what's being reported at the China end, check out the web page of the State Council of the People's Republic of China. It's gone totally Latviatastic, though it also suggests that claims Latvia isn't actually a cold, frozen land with perpetual snow are not likely to be believed! I guess that's the risk you run with having a summit in November.

There's also a cute cartoon quote of Chinese PM Li Keqiang saying he's willing to "raise Sino-Latvian ties to a new level."

 

I'm waiting for my train into Riga. I must admit at this point I would be quite pleased to see a high-speed Chinese bullet train hove into view rather than the aged locomotive that will chug its way slowly into the capital. By my reckoning the trip would take about 15 minutes instead of just over an hour.

Apropos nothing, doing these liveblogs does make you notice things that would otherwise go unnoticed. Already I have seen a man in the middle of a field wearing a genuine ten-gallon hat and another man eating an ice cream with the temperature at -5C.

If you'd like to join my fantasy of a high-speed train ride, this video gives an idea of what it might be like to ride the Shanghai express.

 

Covering these summits can be quite long and, occasionally, boring. therefore I like to equip myself with some suitable reading material. Today it is this beautiful old copy of the Penguin Book of Chinese Verse.

As well as putting me generally in the mood and giving me something to read in dull moments, this will allow me to drop enigmatic quotations from the Chinese classics into my conversation to make it sound like I actually know what I am talking about. I may also be able to look up any quotations from Confucius that people make.

We got Sun Tzu out of the way at the Riga Conference last week (I hope).

Here's a quotation for starters from the Book of Songs, dating from around 600 B.C. and according to legend, edited by Confucius himself.

Let all those in authority
Attend to their proper conduct.
If they fear not other men
Have they no fear for heaven?

If you are an official putting finishing touches to your speech for this afternoon, you may want to consider adding those lines.

I have arrived at the venue for the 16+1 and had lots of adventures along the way, which I will be updating you about in coming minutes!

Meanwhile I am reminded of what a big deal this is to some media when at the registration some guy is clearly having problems as his name is not on whichever list it should be on: "Can't you let me in after travelling 2,000 kilometers?" he says with an air of slight desperation I know only too well.

Inside the venue itself, a rather impressive looking and sounding Chinese journalist in on the phone: "Hmm - I guess there is a problem with the satellite via Poland, she says. Okay let's re-route via Moscow." Yes, when you have the clout of China you can switch satellites just like that.

Speaking of Moscow, Russian airline Aeroflot gets the guerrilla marketing award for draping an enormous advertising hoarding from one of Riga's tallest buildings reminding people they should travel to Asia via Moscow.

(Sorry for the poor quality pic - I was on a moving tram with a dirty window, using a rubbish cellphone)

I can confirm that the train is in the station. Repeat: the train is in the station. No, this is not some secret password that will activate a sleeper cell of highly-trained reporters, but a statement of fact. The train that left Yiwu in China has arrived at Riga in Latvia proving once and for all that a train can go from Yiwu in China to Riga. Doubt no longer, this is a FACT.

Actually it was a rather impressive sight as it slipped into Riga Central Station to be greeted by a choice selection of the aforementioned "bigwigs". Its fresh-painted blue cargo units were certainly smarter than the oil-dripping rust-buckets we usually see clanking in from Russia.

I interviewed Latvian transport minister Uldis Augulis but as he doesn't speak English, it's probably not worth uploading. Suffice to say he is delighted and spoke of Latvia as "a gateway to Europe" for China. All predictable stuff.

Meanwhile his Chinese counterpart said Latvia was the middle one of the Baltic states, which is certainly true.

Proving that this is no ordinary ceremony, the scissors used to cut the obligatory ribbon were gold. I tried pocketing a pair, but the security was too tight.

As the leaders arrive at the library for the start of the summit (the Business Forum is underway on the other side of town) let's meet a real Chinese businessman in Riga.

Mr Hong recently took over running the China Garden restaurant on Barona iela in central Riga after previously running one in Austria. He kindly agreed to talk to LSM about his initial experiences as a young Chinese businessman in Latvia.

Mr Hong, Chinese businessman

    According to Mr Hong, business hasn't been great in the first month, but he's optimistic. And Latvians like sweet and sour rather than spicy dishes.

    The food smells good and the staff are extremely polite, so if you're on Barona iela, give it a go. 

    Getting the main event under way, Latvia PM Kucinskis says Belarus PM has shown up too. Welcome to Latvia.

    "16+1 needs to complement EU policy," Kucinskis says and "fit within the European Union framework."

    Even though this is not an EU event, Kucinskis is repeatedly stressing EU angle.

    Ultimate goal is an "EU-China strategic partnership" that will become clearer in the "Riga guidelines that we are adopting in a short while," Kucinskis says.

    It'll be interesting to see exactly what that means...

    "Today the 16+1 investment fund will be established," Kucinskis says, adding that Latvia, Czech Republic, China are on board. He invites others to join.

    In May 2017 there will be another conference in Riga about 16+1 financial things.

    Outside there is a large vase. Is it Han or Ming, do you think?

    Now Li Keqiang takes the mic.

    "We need to further expand out common interests," he says. 16+1 cooperation is important to the world economy and to world peace, he says.

    Early stages of this speech are simply saying how important this meeting is.

    Then he says protectionism needs to be avoided.

    "Terrorism is the common threat of mankind - both Europe and China have suffered from this scourge."

    "There is no fundamental conflict of interest between China and Europe," he says. 16+1 complements China-Europe cooperation.

    Li Keqiang says he wants to see Chinese businesses setting up in CEE countries, but so far no specifics, no announcement of specific big investments or anything like that.

    New 16+1 investment company will provide financial support for 16+1 cooperation projects, says Li Keqiang. He mentions Poland in addition to Czech Republic and China as members.

    "Many major projects can get off the ground soon," he says.

    Now has asks for visa liberalization with CEE countries so more tourists can come.

    "Now the door leading to great opportunities is opening up right in front of us," he concludes. 

    Latvian Railways are really going to town on the train arriving. Amid a welter of pictures of pleased-looking officials on their twitter feed, there is also a nice little animation of the route.

    However the arrival of the train bang on time was not so surprising. It spent last night waiting on a siding just a couple fo kilometers from the station. Incidentally its cargo is described as "Santehnika", a very Latvian word that includes everything from pipes to sinks, showers, baths and other things you'd find in the bathroom.

    For those of you wondering why so many pairs of scissors were required earlier, here's a photographic explanation.

     

    As the screens go blank so the leaders can talk without the media snooping, one thing should be noted: this is overwhelmingly a male affair. You only need to look at the official photos to see that.

    As one of Latvia's top businesswomen, Baiba Rubesa (who is heading the Rail Baltic project China is interested in) points out, the words "suit dominant" definitely apply. This hardly sends out a progressive, modern message.

    I'm pleased to report that a lot of the people actually doing the hard work of organizing this beanfeast (and a lot of the media) are female. 

    There is one woman in among the men in suits, though. She's the Prime Minister of Poland.

    Get with the plan, guys!

    There is something of a hiatus now while we await the closing press conference. Hopefully this will give us details of the 16+1 investment fund or holding company or whatever it actually is, along with who are the members (at the moment it looks like only China, Czech Republic, Poland and presumably Latvia just joined).

    Then the key question is where the money comes from. I imagine teachers, doctors etc in Latvia would need some convincing that pumping money into such a fund was worthwhile.

    We can only hope answers are forthcoming...

     

    Earlier I went to talk to some Chinese people outside the National Library who have been standing there all day with enormous red flags, so large in fact they are eye-catching even from the other side of the river.

    I asked who they were and why they were there. They were not keen to talk, and did not want to give their names or details, though they were quite keen to have mine, which I supplied.

    However, they were very well organized, clearly with people in charge and all wearing "I love China" vests, so it seems they are basically cheerleaders for Li Keqiang and his delegation.

    Well, as they have stood in the snow all day, I hope he goes to say hello and sign a few autographs.

    The 'press conference' has happened, though in fact it was a press briefing i.e. no questions.

    Kucinskis said it had been a "fruitful summit" and "We adopted the Riga guidelines" outlining future progress, the release of which we await eagerly in the press room.

    Then it was Li Keqiang's turn again, to congratulate Latvia as hosts, then give an almost exact copy of his introductory remarks form the start of the meeting.

    One interesting factoid was when he said Chinese tourists make 110 million overseas visits ever year and that in future he hoped 10% of those woud be to Centrala and Eastern Europe.

    Kucinskis and Li Keqiang unveiled a plaque bearing the legend "SINO-CEEF Holding Company Limited" dated November 2016, with the words "The Grand Opening" at the top.

    But as for details of exactly what this company is, other than it will be involved in some sort of future projects... nothing.

    The plaque is very shiny though.

     

    A quick web search reveals that rather than the November date on the plaque, a company of the same name was founded in Hong Kong in August as this registry entry shows.

    Well, unless more details are forthcoming of this declaration or this new company, I'll wrap things up here. What better way than with a bit of Chinese poetry that seems entirely appropriate after a hard day banging away at the keyboard and watching the mighty do their thing.

    This poem is called "Passing the wine seller's" and is by Wang Chi, a 6th century poet. It seems a good end as I head off for a glass of wine:

    In these days I am ever befuddled with wine
    But it is not for nourishing my nature and soul.
    When I see that all men are drunk,
    How can I bear to be the only one sober.

    (And by "men" let's include women for once)

    Cheers/Prieka/干杯!!

    Seen a mistake?

    Select text and press Ctrl+Enter to send a suggested correction to the editor

    Select text and press Report a mistake to send a suggested correction to the editor

    Related articles
    Politics
    Politics