China’s President Xi Jinping offers vaccines and investments to the states of Eastern and Central Europe. The annual summit of the so-called 17 + 1 format is this time short and virtual.
- China wants to deliver corona vaccine to Eastern and Central Europe and work more closely together on vaccination.
- The summit format 17 + 1 between China and 17 countries in Central and Eastern Europe has existed since 2012.
- European critics fear that China is trying to split the EU with the format.
Beijing / Budapest / Belgrade – China has promised the states of Eastern and Central Europe corona vaccines and at the same time has called on the countries to cooperate more. At the virtual summit of the so-called 17 + 1 format, President Xi Jinping said China is ready for vaccine cooperation. Xi also promised that China would double its purchases of agricultural products from the region over the next five years and import a total of $ 170 billion in goods, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. In addition, China will expand the activities of its “New Silk Road”, transcontinental infrastructure program in Europe, said Xi.
The 17 + 1 format, launched in 2012, is a loose cooperation between China and 16 European countries, including 12 EU members: Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and the three Baltic countries, Estonia , Latvia and Lithuania. The non-EU countries are Albania, Bosnia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. For many of these mostly small states, the platform offered an opportunity for dialogue with China that they would not have on their own. However, there is also criticism from parts of the EU about China’s involvement in the region. Accusations have been raised that Beijing is trying to expand its influence and divide Europe. This point of view simplifies the situation, countered a group of China scientists from the region who claim to be China Observers in Central and Eastern Europe (CHOICE) exchange regularly. “This infantilizes the Eastern and Central European states and denies that they have their own agenda”.
China: Success with vaccination diplomacy in Hungary and Serbia
Generally speaking, things are more complex. So the 16 are by no means a uniform bloc when it comes to dealing with China. Hungary and the EU candidate Serbia in particular accepted the Chinese vaccination offers with open arms. Serbia already had more than a million doses of the in January Sinopharm vaccine receive; the vaccines promised by the EU as part of the Covax program have not yet been fully received there. Hungary approved the Sinopharm vaccine for emergency use at the end of January and ordered five million doses – even without the OK from Brussels. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban always does what he himself thinks is right. Hungary also approved the Russian vaccine Sputnik V on Sunday. At the same time, in addition to Hungary, there are also first attempts at independent vaccine procurement in the EU, including from Russia and China. In view of the slow corona vaccinations, CSU regional group leader Alexander Dobrindt, like Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder, spoke out in favor of checking the approval of vaccines from Russia and China in Germany.
17 + 1 platform with China: Not all countries in Eastern and Central Europe pull together
So far it has not been seen that all of Eastern Europe is opening up towards China like Hungary or Serbia. Not all of the promised investments have reached the countries so far, and some are already worried that Beijing will have too much influence. One of the successes of the “New Silk Road” is China’s investment in the then financially weak port of Piraeus near Athens. There are also several Chinese projects in Serbia.
Conversely, Romania, for example, excluded the Chinese telecommunications supplier Huawei and other Chinese companies from setting up a 5G network in November. Poland recently suspected a Huawei employee of espionage. Estonia and Lithuania did not send their heads of government or presidents to the summit. “We prefer the EU 27 + 1 format and prefer to address China within the framework of the EU’s common policy,” a spokeswoman for the new Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told the news portal Politico Europe. Above all of this there is also the question of how the EU will work together with the USA under the new administration of President Joe Biden – also with regard to China.
China’s President XI Jinping: Great importance for 17 + 1 summit with Eastern Europe
The fact that Xi Jinping “appeared” at the meeting is a sign that China attaches great importance to the format. Openness and inclusion are the key to the dynamic of the cooperation, he emphasized at the video conference. The CHOICE experts also consider the platform to be generally useful in order to better benefit from economic cooperation with China. In one The China experts recommended a joint CHOICE paperthat the 17 states should better coordinate with each other and come together in a kind of 17 + 0 right before the annual summits. In view of growing resentment towards China and its government in Europe, the experts warned against racism in their countries against Chinese students, expats or tourists. (ck / with dpa)