China-CEEC cooperation successful paradigm of relations between China and Europe
Branislav Đorđević: The Cooperation has opened up many new opportunities and strengthened the multilateral approach
During the opening remarks, Ivica Dacic, first deputy prime minister and foreign minister of Serbia, Chinese Ambassador to Serbia Chen Bo, Zhao Qi, secretary general of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), and Branislav Đordđević, director of the Institute of International Politics and Economics (IIPE) highlighted the opportunities presented by the cooperation. They underlined the significance of responding to imminent challenges with the commitment of all partners to support the China-CEEC cooperation mechanism to evolve and bring further benefits in the areas of trade, investments, tourism, pandemic prevention and control, and science.
Zhao Qi, secretary general of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) stressed that the China-CEEC cooperation has produced visible results in 20 sectors and 15 platforms, showing that the mechanism is a "living proof of multilateralism."
Branislav Đorđević, director of the Institute of International Politics and Economics (IIPE) reminded the participants of China-CEEC's vital role in the deepening cooperation between China and this part of Europe, in the context of the pandemic and economic and geopolitical challenges. The Cooperation has opened many new opportunities and strengthened the multilateral approach.
Đorđević explained that the current era is full of "uncertainty, when crises pile up and multiply -- from the economy, energy to climate, food security, and epidemic."
He noted that over time geopolitical circumstances have made it much more difficult to implement this vision of a better world underling the cooperation has been focused on long-term goals and already has successfully shifted relations between China and CEECs to multilateralism and politics of friendship.
Director Đorđević concluded that in the context of the weaknesses of the international system China's global development initiatives gain even greater importance as they encourage multipolarity, the central role of the United Nations, and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
Liu Zuokui: Results of the mechanism encouraged all to be optimistic about the cooperation's future
Session two, named "Impact of global neuralgic points, spaces, and processes (trends) on China-CEEC cooperation was moderated by Dr. Tianping Kong, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of European Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences while Professor Liu Zuokui, Deputy Director General, Institute of European Studies, CASS, made a resume of the session stressing that current results of the mechanism encouraged all to be optimistic on the cooperation's future.
Jasna Plevnik on main risks for cooperation between China and Central and Eastern Europe in 2023
President of the Geoeconomic Forum Croatia Jasna Plevnik analyzed the impact of geopolitical trends in Europe on China-CEEC cooperation. You can read Jasna Plevnik's speech below:
“After ten years, China-CEEC cooperation is recognized as a successful paradigm of relations between China and Europe, which is organized and implemented according to the principle of common prosperity, and in harmony with the EU standards and rules.
When China launched the cooperation the situation in Europe was quite different than it is now.
There was no pandemic, no war in Ukraine, and no inflation in Europe which is now heading into an economic recession. The current sanctions against Russia appear to have brought much unity to the European Union, yet there is also an increasing division in Europe and globally.
But despite all these tendencies towards cold war mentality geopolitics, the world order has not lost its elements of multipolarity. China and the EU continue to support multilateral formats and economic interdependence as factors that make the world order more multipolar.
It is positive that Germany is aware that the EU thinks too little about the fact that two-thirds of the world does not support the economic sanctions against Russia. Here the point is not in arithmetic but in their support of the UN as the center of multilateralism, new global institutions, including new locations for traditional institutions, stronger multilateral governance, and more democratic international relations.
Also, there were the EU s Global Gateway strategy and the Build Back Better World Initiative (B3W)which in 2021, have been conceived as a "rival" to the Chinese models of integration in Europe, Asia, and Africa.
The further expansion of China- CEEC cooperation depends on how Beijing will react to dramatic shifts in international relations and balance that tension with Washington that appears as well as difficult as it was with the previous American administration.
The Communist Party Congress, which just concluded, opposed the Cold War mentality, geopolitical conflicts, and major power competition seeing them as opposed to the trend of the times and to people’s expectations.
China - CEEC remains an essential part of China's foreign policy which is pursuing cooperation and countering the mentality of division among countries through its four main global platforms: Belt and Road, Global Development Initiative, Initiative and Community with a shared future for mankind and the Global Security Initiative that is the newest one and based on the principle of "indivisibility of security". The principle of "indivisible security" was first set out in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. The principle has become a part of many strategic documents and peace conferences which support the main idea of "indivisible security" that no country can strengthen its security at the expense of others.
China -CEEC’s relations are based on the market principle of supply and demand, not geopolitics, however political pressure on the BRI is on the rise in Europe that is caused by America’s coercion on Brussels.
If persists that situation may develop as harmful for Europe, which may lose its market attractiveness for global technology companies from China and may find itself in a situation where it will have to buy digital equipment and build new networks at much higher costs than before, which will impoverish European citizens. Russia found new markets for its gas and oil.
These tendencies if continued might have dwarfed Europe into an appendage of the US moving it to the global periphery while the US will keep its central role at the cost of Europe.
Now I will present the main risks for cooperation between China and Central and Eastern Europe in 2023.
1. The geopolitical tensions in Europe will continue
The CEE region will have to learn to live with the geopolitical risks which may worsen.
The China-CEEC cooperation must address geostrategic rivalry in Europe by strengthening its cooperation policies, with more new projects, and enlargement towards the European south to diminish the risk to be influenced or even framed by current highly geopolitical tensions in Europe, particularly those between the European Union and Russia.
Although the cooperation’s focus is Europe, the US's worsening relations with China in the Indo-Pacific region threaten to hit China's relations with the EU. In the Indo-Pacific, geopolitical relations are at a very delicate stage, and that could also affect the mechanism.
Look at the withdrawal of Lithuania from the group in 2021! Lithuania's explanation that the exit was motivated by the less expected trade benefits of cooperation would have been more convincing if Taiwan had not opened a representative office, a de facto embassy in the capital Vilnius, which appears as an act of disrespect for China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
2. The European Union's approach to China stays double-edged
The direction in which the strategic dialogue between the EU and China will develop is crucial
for China-CEEC cooperation’s progression.
To define what the European Union's approach to China is today and how it could impact China-CEEC cooperation we need a huge intellectual undertaking because ambiguity becomes dominant and the move from free market competition to giving priority to security or digital and technological sovereignty is evident.
In 2019, EU-China Strategic Outlook characterizes the People's Republic of China as a partner, economic competitor, and a "systemic rival" that promotes an alternative model of governance.
The EU describes China as a "partner, competitor, and rival.” This "cognitively unstable "approach has more sense from the point of Washington’s global economic and geopolitical interests than from Brussels’ perspective.
After Russia's aggression on Ukraine, the EU and NATO find a new unity.
NATO also designates China as a "systemic challenge," echoing a phrase from the EU's document on China. The new NATO strategic document hints at the possibility that NATO interferes in China's and Russia's geographic neighborhood, while these countries must not interfere in their own neighborhood. The job of NATO is to drive Russia out of Europe, and China from Indo-Pacific.
The element of rivalry could increase under the pressure of the USA that looks at China-the EU cooperation since 2017, geopolitically, as the cooperation that helped the rise of China and if continue will do even more so in the future.
The European Union's institutional narrative has become more assertive and geopolitical than ever, which is quite different from the core values and principles of the EU. The founders of a united Europe, Robert Schuman, and Jean Monnet would have been shocked by the EU's dependence on the USA in solving the European solution for the war in Europe, which is primarily a European problem.
However, behind the EU and China is the legacy of almost five decades of good relations that until now have not been burdened by geopolitics, and it is natural for the EU and China to build on their partnership in global governance, Europe, and the Indo-Pacific.
Brussels must very carefully think about where the EU will stand in international relations for ten years and how current geopolitical conflicts, that is pro tempore, will influence its status of global economic power. The Wrong decision could make it much less completive than now.
3. East European countries' Perceptions of China's position in the war in Ukraine will influence China- CEEC cooperation
In the biggest war in Europe since 1945, China is not included party and does not support Russia’s aggression on Ukraine. China is not an ally of Russia, it advocates respect for all countries’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, and it has friendly relations with Ukraine.
Yet, there is a perception in some Central and East European countries that China's position is not neutral because China does not follow the European Union’s sanctions against Russia, and it is not willing to influence Russia to stop the war.
The Western media outlets blame China for not using its influence on Russia to stop the war while simultaneously the European countries send weapons to Ukraine.
Serbia is a significant partner in China- CEEC cooperation and the EU candidate country is also under great pressure from the EU to give up its neutral policy in the Ukraine war and to choose a side.
European countries under the influence of those interpretations that China as an ally of Russia in Ukraine may give up cooperation.
The Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia announced their exit from China-Central and East European countries cooperation (China-CEEC) after ten years of their participation within that model and some of them expect it will cause a domino effect.
It appears some East Europe countriesunderestimate the complexities of the Ukraine war for countries that have not been part of the Soviet Union and that look at the war from the world order perspective.
For a large portion of the world, that has not chosen a side, it is possible to be both for Ukraine's territorial integrity and against America's geostrategic interest in the Ukraine war.
4. America’s narrative on the division of the world on democratic and antidemocratic blocks will continue
America will continue with its narrative of division that has the power to move the world to a new kind of bipolarity where new blocs will emerge around the United States and China.
The so-called democratic grouping against China, led by the USA, has been invented to more easily secure allies for Washington’s not ideological, but technological war against the development of China.
That type of relation follows the principles of confrontation, militarisation, and grouping into democratic alliances for targeting third parties.
If Europe decides to follow the division of the world on democratic and antidemocratic blocks it will slow down the China-CEEC cooperation.
5. The West’s decoupling politics towards China may slow down investments within the China-CEEC
Washington's idea of economic separation from China has recently caused a lot of disagreement in Europe and developing countries. In the next years in Europe, there will be a lot of discussion about the overdependencies and how to strike the right balance to not ruin the EU relations with China and the world.
Some European politicians advocate for "smart globalization" in which economic interdependence must be reduced. I would call it soft decoupling.
Strangely, the main argument for hard or soft decoupling does not come from China- the EU relations, but from the EU’s current problem caused by its dependence on Russian gas and oil.
It is somehow optimistic that the leaders of the IMF, WTO, ILO, OECD the World Bank, and the president of the European Council Charles Michel all agree that deglobalization, decoupling, and protectionism are not solutions.
Olaf Scholz, the chancellor of Germany stated that China remained an important business and trading partner for Germany and Europe claiming we don’t want to decouple from it. It could mean that the European Union will not abandon economic globalization and back to trade blocs among the countries that share political values and geopolitical interests.
But things are more complex because the EU does not want to separate from China, but it must not rely too much on it.
Decoupling is nothing more than another word for deglobalization which the USA launched for a purpose that other countries would not remember only three decades ago Washington was the leader in including China in global economic institutions and governance of economic globalization.
While Washington was expanding its economy and buying and investing in Asia, it was a liberal economy, democracy, the very top of economic globalization!
But when China has become rich, technologically advanced, and invested in the West a lot Washington started to see China as too globalized and involved in global governance, and here lies its interest in strengthening politics for regionalization of economic globalization and decoupling.
China strongly supports the continuation of the process of economic globalization, and it is against tearing the fabric of economic interdependence, which has been built intensively since the 1990s with a lot of effort.
However, the danger that the world could break into trading blocs — one based in China, the other in the United States didn't disappear.
The crucial problem of economic globalization has never been too much economic interdependence among countries, but inequality! The world needs fairer economic globalization instead of a return to trade blocs.
Big business in Europe does not support that discourse on self-sufficiency understanding it as dangerous for relations between China and Europe and European global competitiveness.
Two-thirds of the world does not support the ideas of decoupling and economic sanctions against Russia.
According to the report by the China Chamber of Commerce to the EU (CCCEU) Chinese enterprises operating in the European Union have expressed concern about increasing calls for decoupling and the threat of trade protectionism.
Chinese investment within China-CEEC may be further slowed down in Europe due to the EU violations of private property rights that are now spreading across Europe and causing discomfort among foreign investors.
6. The China-CEEC's rejuvenation through closer cooperation with other Chinese initiatives
Those challenges above can also be seen as an opportunity for the cooperation to speed up its fusion with the BRI and the Global Development Initiative and continue with the processes and events that support economic interdependence between China and Europe.
GDI is the youngest China initiative and even more global than BRI and the China-CEEC, which celebrates their 10th anniversary next and this year. The comprehensive experience of the China-CEEC in connecting China with Europe was valuable for China in the process of shaping the GDI concept. As F. Bacon would say experience comes before theory.
The China-CEEC's rejuvenation which could deliver more economic benefits to all parties is possible through closer connectivity with the BRI and the Global Development Initiative that were launched to promote development, cooperation, and economic integration. All three diplomacies, though at different geographical levels, prioritize poverty reduction and emphasize green, innovative, and sustainable development and emphasizes global digital development, the fight against Covid-19, food security, energy security, and financial stability.
All initiatives respect the UN as the center of international relations, and the Chinese leadership sees them as models of cooperation that can accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in Europe, Asia, Africa, and globally.
 See, European Commission contribution to the European Council EU-China – A strategic outlook, March 12, 2019.