Big powers pull strings of Central and Eastern European Countries' diplomacy

By Gu Hongfei Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/23 10:33:23

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

On January 11, a Huawei employee was arrested for alleged spying in Poland. Earlier in December, the Czech cyber security agency alleged that Chinese telecom companies Huawei and ZTE posed a security threat.

There have been few disputes between China and Central and Eastern European countries over time. 

Uncharacteristically, two countries in the region confronted China successively within weeks. What is the message being sent? Where are relations between China and the region headed?

Since China initiated the 16+1 format to promote cooperation with 16 Central and Eastern European Countries (CEECs) in 2012, China-CEEC ties have maintained a sound momentum with the countries' general recognition and support. 

However, uncertainty has recently increased for two reasons. 

First, the 16 countries do not always hold identical positions and are not compatible with each other although they are under the cooperation framework. More importantly, the diplomacy of Central and Eastern Europe, made up of mostly small countries, has been subject to the big-power games and lost its decision-making ability to some extent. In the context of China-US trade frictions, and with the EU's rising suspicion and criticism of China's Belt and Road initiative (BRI) and the 16+1 cooperation, CEECs' attitude toward China has drawn closer to that of Brussels and Washington.

Both Poland and the Czech Republic are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization led by the US, and Poland relies heavily on the US for protection against Russia. Therefore, it is quite natural that Poland and the Czech Republic have chosen to be on the side of the US on the information security issue. Thus, they will find it hard to cooperate with China. 

Be that as it may, the two countries taking on Huawei does not mean that China-CEEC relations will stagnate.

2019 marks the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and Poland. The China (Liaoning) CEEC Pavilion Launching Ceremony was held in Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, on January 16, in the presence of over 300 government and company representatives. The 6th China-CEEC working group meeting of Local Provincial Governors Association will also be held in Liaoning Province this year.

They will be followed by a series of further cooperation moves in the first half of 2019, including the Meeting of National Coordinators for China-CEEC Cooperation and the 5th China-CEEC Investment and Trade Expo in China, as well as the meeting of the China-CEEC Investment Promotion Agencies Contact Mechanism and the China-CEEC Customs Cooperation Forum in Poland.

In addition, Beijing has attached significant importance to China-CEEC cultural exchange. For example, an increasing number of Chinese universities are offering Polish and Czech language courses to nurture talent in Central and Eastern European studies.

CEECs including the Czech Republic have also benefited a lot from the 16+1 cooperation, especially from China's tourism industry. For instance, direct flights have been launched from four Chinese cities to Prague, the Czech Republic; and there will be more in the future. 

It is not hard to find from the above cooperation mechanisms that China-CEEC ties have bright prospects. But there is something to learn from the Huawei incidents.

While undertaking all-round and in-depth cooperation with CEECs, China needs to pay extra attention to the global context, in particular to the EU and the US, via enhancing communication and preparing well in advance. For example, the European factors can be integrated in the BRI and the 16+1 cooperation to avoid going against EU interests. 

Moreover, China must base the cooperation with CEECs on preliminary research and communication.

Chinese enterprises like Huawei should also keep a watchful eye on external relations. It would be conducive to a company's overseas business to include the target countries' political environment into consideration.

The author is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute of European Studies in the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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