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small EU states review relations with Beijing




For the deputy foreign minister of Lithuania, the European Union needs a common policy towards China. The last top 17 + 1 is a flop. Xi Jinping does not keep his investment promises. Germany and France remain cautious. Estonian intelligence services warn that China wants a world “silenced” under its rule.

Rome (AsiaNews) – More and more Eastern European countries, courted by China as a partner in its new Silk Roads (Belt and Road Initiative), are distancing themselves from the Asian giant. One of them is Lithuania. Talk to AsiaNews, Egidijus Meilnas, Lithuanian deputy foreign minister, clarified that while his government intends to continue dialogue with the Chinese, it has a more disenchanted position compared to the recent past, which is shared by a growing number of European nations.

“We are reconsidering our approach to China,” Meilnas explained. “Lithuania wishes to deepen its bilateral cooperation with China, based on mutual respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”

At the annual summit of the 17 + 1 group, which took place virtually on February 9, six EU member states (Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria) sent junior ministers, a snub against Xi Jinping according to several analysts. The 17 + 1 initiative includes China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries, 12 of which belong to the EU.

Despite Xi’s promises to increase food imports from the region, simplify customs controls and make China’s coronavirus vaccine available, most of Europe’s 17 + 1 members are unhappy with Beijing. They note that Chinese investments have decreased instead of increasing, while their trade deficit with the Asian partner has widened.

The China Global Investment Tracker estimates that Chinese investments in the Belt and Road program last year stopped at $ 46.5 billion, up from $ 103 billion in 2019 and $ 117 billion in 2018.

Meilnas says his government wants the EU to develop a common strategy to manage relations with China. He stresses that economic ties with Beijing must be based on respect for the rules-based world order, a point which must be high on the EU’s agenda.

The problem with Meilnas’s suggestion is that the EU remains divided on how to deal with China’s geopolitical challenge. Despite warnings from US President Joe Biden before taking office, the EU has reached a investment agreement with China on December 30. As Slovak MP Miriam Lexmann noted in a recent interview Apple Daily, without a clear commitment from the Chinese on human rights, the pact risks not being ratified by the European Parliament.

Germany and France strongly support the trade agreement with China. Berlin wants to protect German companies, while French President Emmanuel Macron aims to strengthen the EU’s “strategic autonomy” from the United States.

Only small countries like the Czech Republic (Czechia) and the Baltic States are calling for a stricter approach from China, probably under American pressure. The Estonian foreign intelligence service paints a first picture of the situation. Its annual report, released Wednesday, notes that China is trying to create a wedge between the United States and Europe. For Estonians, the Chinese Communist Party wants a “silent world”, dominated by China and “dependent on [its] Technology”.

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