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New World Order: China recalibrating its strategy in Central and Eastern Europe

China considers Central and Eastern Europe as part of a Chinese sphere of influence on the European continent. From Beijing’s perspective, the region’s position at the doorstep of the European Union makes it uniquely attractive. China’s interests in Central and Eastern Europe countries are all underpinned by a three broad adjectives and motivations: pushing Chinese exports and investments, exerting political influence in Europe, and, finally, fostering a positive image of China and relations with China.

05.07.2022 19:00
Piše: Valerio Fabbri
Ključne besede:   China   PRC   Central Europe   Eastern Europe   US   Russia   17+1   Belt and Road Initiative   Ukraine   NATO   Lithuania   Taiwan   Taipei  

The Chinese assess that Sino-US relations have moved from "competition-cooperation" to "competition-conflict"

The recent events prompted by Russia’s continuing "special military operations" in Ukraine and the US re-evaluating its relations with China in the larger context of its global policy has triggered a similar exercise in Chinese academic circles. The Chinese assess that Sino-US relations have moved from "competition-cooperation" to "competition-conflict" which would manifest in different regions across the globe.

 

A region of major concern for the People's Republic of China (PRC) is the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) which continues to distance itself away from Beijing under the current security considerations. Most of the CEE countries have started to become wary of foreign powers including China. This has led to slowing down of implementation of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) projects in CEE countries. Sensing unease in the attitude of CEE governments, China sent two special delegations to 10 CEE countries. One delegation, led by Ma Keqing, former Chinese Ambassador to Finland and Czech Republic, visited Greece and Albania, while another delegation, headed by Huo Yuzhen, PRC Special Envoy to CEE, visited Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Poland.

 

However, several CEE countries did not attach much importance to these delegations and instead deputed lower-level officials to hold discussions with the visitors. The most disappointing response came from Poland where the Chinese delegation could not even meet officials of the Polish Foreign Ministry. Though China forged the so called 17+1 Initiative to enhance its penetration into the European region, its failure to convert investment promises into actual investment has dented the progress of the grouping.

 

This year marks the tenth founding anniversary of the "17+1 initiative" (formed in 2012), but most of the CEE countries have not shown enthusiasm for celebrating the landmark year. Furthermore, Beijing could not even find a single CEE country willing to host the annual summit. Chinese academicians are of the view that Beijing’s engagement with CEE countries needs to be fine tuned and nimble footed. They underline that Beijing should factor in its strategy the fact that the current circumstances would affect CEE countries’ policy decisions. The prevailing security scenario would influence them to align their individual actions with those of the US and NATO.

 

Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Czech Republic and Poland have taken a pronounced pro-West line. Lithuania’s withdrawal from China - Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC), allowing Taiwan to open a representative office using Taiwan instead of Taipei in its name and the EU filing a case in the WTO accusing Beijing of engaging in discriminatory practices are signs that China perhaps needs to tweak its strategy in CEE countries.

 

Besides, right wing populism in most of the CEE countries has fuelled a more aggressive anti-China policy. Nevertheless, China does not want to fritter away the gains of its initiatives in recent years, including China - Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) Economic and Trade Forum, Central European Trade and Logistics Cooperation Zone (CECZ) and China and Eastern and Central Europe Investment Cooperation Fund. The altered strategy suggested by 2 Chinese academicians to maximize the outcome of initiatives in CEE countries are:

 

(1) Tone down aggressive approach towards countries like Lithuania which recently exited from "17+1" despite their passing anti-China posture. Rather Beijing should continue its engagements despite the provocations.

 

(2) Strengthen multi-sectoral and multifaceted ties to protect economic, trade and social relations from political issues.

 

(3) Strengthen relations of civil society, social organizations and private sector enterprises with counterparts in the region and promote cooperation to dispel the impression that it was a state driven and state-centric exercise. State owned enterprises, which are perceived as instruments of State policy, should not be in the foreground of the moves to foster cooperation, and

 

(4) Take measures to ensure that China is not perceived as too closely aligned with Russia. China considers Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) as part of a Chinese sphere of influence on the European continent. From Beijing’s perspective, the region’s position at the doorstep of the European Union makes it uniquely attractive.

 

China’s interests in CEE countries are all underpinned by a three broad adjectives and motivations: (i) pushing Chinese exports and investments, (ii) exerting political influence in Europe, and (iii) fostering a positive image of China and relations with China.

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