Tuesday

17th Sep 2019

Focus

China's 16+1 foray into Central and Eastern Europe

  • A Chinese New Year celebration in Prague. For Central Eastern European countries, the Chinese partnership is "a pragmatic question". (Photo: EUobserver)

Half a decade after it was launched, the network of cooperation between China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries has brought uneven economical and political fruits so far.

The so-called 16+1 was established in 2012 as Beijing's initiative to cover various issues such as investment, trade, but also culture or education.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The group includes 11 EU countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia; and five non-EU countries from the Balkans: Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia.

It fits into China's global strategy to engage new partners in political and economic ties in different formats.

Despite having a permanent secretariat, the Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries - the initiative's official name - is more a series of bilateral relationships with no overall coherence, as experts pointed out in discussions at the Prague European Summit conference earlier this month.

"It's not really a multilateral format," Petr Kratochvil, the director of Prague's Institute of International Relations, told EUobserver.

"It's more a group of countries that China took to have bilateral ties with. It's mainly Poland and Hungary in terms of investment, and Romania and Serbia for building projects."

China's interest in the 16+1 countries is different from one country to another.

In the Czech Republic, Kratochvil noted, the Chinese have mainly invested in real estate, a football club - Slavia Prague, which just won the Czech championship - or the media.

"It's not really the kind of investment the country wants, because it doesn't produce anything," he said.

In Budapest, meanwhile, the government announced last week that Hungary and China would soon start to cooperate in the healthcare industry – from making medical equipment to developing biotechnologies.

Kratochvil noted that the amount of Chinese investments in the region had remained limited and was concentrated on a few high profile infrastructure projects, such as the Budapest-Belgrade high-speed railway that Chinese companies plan to build.

The focus on infrastructure shows that China considers Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) a full part of the One Belt-One Road initiative – an investment and infrastructure plan, spanning from China to the Middle-East and Africa through to Central Asia.

"Southern and Eastern Europe are a testing ground for the Belt and Road," Anastas Vangeli, from the Polish Academy of Sciences, told EUobserver.

He said that 16+1 was more an "experiment" than a "Chinese plan", and that Beijing tries "to see whether this type of diplomacy can help them boost economic relations."

"To put it very simply, the whole idea is to find ways to boost the economy outside China, to generate demand for Chinese goods," Vangeli said, adding: "And these are not cheap goods: high speed railways, satellites systems or nuclear technology."

Agatha Kratz, from the European Council on Foreign Relations, a London-based think-tank, told EUobserver that: "The first idea was to treat CEE as Asia and Africa."

"That was a big shock, they explained that loans for projects that China would build were not going to happen."

For Kratz, the success of the 16+1 initiative is to be found on the political side than in the economic side.

She pointed out that annual summits between the 17 leaders, usually in Europe, constitute a "formal channel of communication".

A pragmatic question

After five years, the 16+1 format "has shown its limits, but it will continue," Kratz added.

For China, the forum is "high-level enough and it helps to understand how best to promote what it can do in Europe".

For CEE countries, the summits are "one more bilateral forum, one more way to have meetings with China and explain what they [CEE countries] need from it."

For countries that are either part of the EU or willing to join it in the future, the Chinese partnership is "a pragmatic question", Kratochvil insisted.

Although some leaders, such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban or Czech president Milos Zeman, are supportive of certain Chinese positions – for instance Beijing's territorial claims in the South China Sea – the region is not going to become a Chinese "ally".

"The idea of a strategic shift is nonsense," Kratochvil said.

EU-China united on climate, divided on trade

Within 24 hours of Trump announcing that the US will pull out of the Paris climate accord, EU and Chinese leaders presented a united front on fighting climate change. But divergence on trade plagues the new alliance.

Opinion

Why the EU doesn't get China's Belt and Road

It is not enough for European officials to simply tell the press that they do not understand the Belt and Road – the vision is clear enough, the point is to decide how to engage with it.

Chinese hangover in Prague

President Zeman says closer ties with China will finally free the Czechs from EU and US pressure. His allies and opponents are united in scepticism.

Column / Crude World

Why China and Russia will be best frenemies forever

Russia and China bond over anti-Western rhetoric and the shared interest of keeping the US at bay, but beyond that, there is little that binds Moscow and Beijing together.

Analysis

Trump is 'gift' for China's EU agenda

The more harm Trump does to trans-Atlantic ties, the better for China's global interests, the author of a new study on Sino-European relations has said.

News in Brief

  1. Von der Leyen defends 'way of life' slogan
  2. Court hears case on UK's pre-Brexit parliament shutdown
  3. Nato rings alarm on Gulf 'escalation'
  4. Luxembourg mockery of British leader sparks 'anger'
  5. Majority of Belgians against excluding Vlaams Belang
  6. Greece: time for EU to step up on migration
  7. Germany prepared to top up post-Brexit EU budget
  8. New Saudi attack threats, but EU and US still divided

Supported by

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  2. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  6. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  8. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  9. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  10. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  11. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  12. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat

Latest News

  1. Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing
  2. Trumpworld In Europe
  3. How EU firms and banks help fund Amazon fires
  4. Amazon fires mean EP must rethink Mercosur trade deal
  5. EU must give full support to Ukraine to dissuade Kremlin
  6. EU divided on how to protect rule of law
  7. Nordic region to become world's most sustainable and integrated
  8. In detail: Belgium's EU nominee faces crime probe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  5. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  8. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us