Highrise buildings in downtown Lodz, Poland. Photo: Wikipedia

A few years ago the Chinese ambassador to Warsaw at the time, Xu Jian, said that “Poland is a ‘gate to Europe’ as far as the Belt and Road Initiative is concerned.” It would also be fair to argue that Lodz, located at the very center of Poland (and of Europe), is its heart.

A Chinese proverb says, “If you want to get rich, build a road first,” and this perfectly applies to Lodz, which was named the most attractive place to do business in Central and Eastern Europe by the prestigious Business-Friendly Perception Index 2021, published by the Emerging Europe website.

In fact, Lodz was the first destination for regular container trains from China, which has led to a situation where the Lodz region is now the most dynamic in Poland in terms of cooperation with the People’s Republic of China, connecting it with Western Europe and vice versa.

From the very beginning of BRI’s inception, the city was one of the most important points on the New Silk Road and has established itself as a major transportation hub in Europe, where freight from countries like Britain, Germany, and Italy is transferred on to China-bound trains.

The geographical advantage of Lodz stems from the fact that it is located within 500 kilometers of seven European capitals – Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Vilnius – as well as its convenient connection to the most important national and European communication routes – a fact recognized not only by Chinese investors, but also by multinational corporations such as Dell, Gillette, Procter & Gamble and Hutchinson that have distribution and production centers in the region.

What is especially emphasized by Chinese entrepreneurs is the fact that Lodz has easy access to German, Czech, French, Russian and Ukrainian markets.

Furthermore, according to the European Agreement on Important International Combined Transport Lines and Related Installations (AGTC), two international freight corridors and four domestic transport routes run through Lodz province.

It is worth mentioning that the Lodz-Chengdu route is not only the fastest and most frequently used direct freight service from China to Europe, but also the connection that contributed to 30% growth in bilateral trade volumes between Poland and China since 2013.

Thanks to this link, shipping time from Europe to China was reduced by 50% (14 days) compared with the sea route, and it is estimated that is also about 20% cheaper than air transport, while at the same time contributing to a reduction in carbon-dioxide emissions.

All of this would not be possible if not for the strong determination of Witold Stępień, marshal of the Łódzkie region, and Hanna Zdanowska, the mayor of Lodz, who have constantly striven to master good guanxi with their Chinese counterparts, believing that relations with China are strategically important for the development of the region, its capital city, and most importantly the entire country.

Aware that the political involvement of the local and regional authorities is very important to the Chinese side, both politicians have dedicated much of their time and energy to making the best use of paradiplomacy tools provided by the Polish legal system, aiming at the development of foreign relations on the subnational level.

Thanks to being well connected in China, regional politicians from Lodz are perceived as valuable advisers to the Polish government concerning Beijing, something that was especially evident when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs decided to open a consulate general in Chengdu, not in Chongqing, in 2016.

Knowing that the segmentation of actors and policies in internal relations leads to the rationalization of national foreign-policy making, we can honestly conclude that the regional activities of the Łódzkie region have a positive impact on the development of the Polish policy toward China.

Currently, the New Silk Road comprises 65 countries, which account for 40% of world’s gross domestic product and 70% of its population.

With the Middle East being destabilized and an uncertain internal situation in Ukraine, the Chinese believe that the safest land connection between China and Europe is the New Eurasian Land Bridge (NELB) running through Kazakhstan, Belarus and Poland.

This gives Poland a high level of confidence that the BRI cannot be implemented without taking the country into the account, which translates into hope that not only will more transport corridors from east to west intersect in its territory, but also will those that connect northern and southern Europe.

During the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on May 14, 2017, Krzysztof Senger, vice-president of the Polish Investment and Trade Agency, said: “By participating in the project, Poland hopes to gain new contracts, new partners around the world and enter new markets.

“We also hope that due to our involvement in the Belt and Road, Poland will become the central logistic hub in Europe, while such places as Gdansk and Lodz will be considered as important trade and transport centers on a global scale.”

Being located at the crossroads of key north-south and east-west transport corridors, and playing a crucial role in Polish foreign policy toward China, Lodz will most definitely continue to rebuild its economy by leveraging its geographic position within the BRI, prioritizing logistics as its new development path.

Adriel Kasonta

Adriel Kasonta is a London-based foreign affairs analyst and commentator, and founder of AK Consultancy. He is former chairman of the International Affairs Committee at the oldest conservative think tank in the UK, Bow Group. You can follow him on Twitter @Adriel_Kasonta.