Research and Opinion

China-CEEC cooperation cannot be undermined

China-CEEC cooperation cannot be undermined

By Jasna Plevnik | China Daily | Updated: 2022-08-31 08:22


The Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia announced their exit from the China-Central and Eastern European Countries cooperation mechanism after working under the framework for 10 years to strengthen economic connectivity between China and Europe.

The exits of Estonia and Latvia come at a time when the global military-political situation is unstable, and the United States, and to some extent the European Union, have been desperately trying to undermine China's economy, and challenge its sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as its strategic position in the Asia-Pacific region.

It's always sad to see a country leave a multilateral mechanism after years of good cooperation. Yet the two Baltic states' decision to withdraw will not harm the overall China-CEEC cooperation mechanism. In fact, the exit of Estonia and Latvia can be used as an opportunity to accelerate the fusion of the China-CEEC mechanism with the Belt and Road Initiative and continue the process to boost economic globalization.

The announcements by Estonia and Latvia come after Lithuania's decision last year to withdraw from the cooperation mechanism. But since the Lithuanian government's decision was not supported by the Lithuanian people, that fact has made that exit diplomacy to look like an empty shell. A survey, conducted by a private company on behalf of the Lithuanian foreign ministry in December 2021, showed that almost 60 percent of the country's people opposed Lithuania's policy toward China.

The China-CEEC was launched as a new generation model of cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries with emphasis on digital and green investment and multilateralism in a bid to diminish the role of geopolitics in international relations and promote economic interdependence among partner countries.

In its 10 years, the China-CEEC framework has successfully developed significant economic and academic relations among the partner countries, and helped upgrade ties between many European countries (Serbia, Hungary, Poland, Greece and Croatia) and China.

That's why it is surprising that Estonia and Latvia said they would "continue to strive for constructive and pragmatic relations with China both bilaterally and multilaterally" after announcing their exit, because the two countries have improved their ties with China precisely because of the China-CEEC cooperation mechanism. It is surprising also because their decisions are likely to damage their political and economic relations with Beijing.

The two countries have tried to explain the reason for their withdrawal, claiming the China-CEEC mechanism has not fulfilled the goals it had set. Yet they never complained about it at any of the high-level China-CEEC meetings or never said China-CEEC cooperation was not based on mutual benefit or didn't follow international laws and rules.

From 2014 to 2022, the China-CEEC cooperation mechanism has functioned according to European Union rules, standards and procedures, and has been praised by EU member and candidate countries for doing so.

The discourse of diplomacy is based on equivocation and phrases, but the Baltic states' narrative cannot hide the fact that their main target is not China-CEEC cooperation. Instead, they hope their decisions will have a domino effect, which they could present as an offering at the altar of anti-China politics built by the US.

If we analyze the exit policies of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in light of the current geopolitical situation, we can see the three countries are ready to risk their relations with China as they believe the big moment of geopolitical alignment has come and they want to be seen in the anti-China group.

They have turned a blind eye to the fact that the US, given its geostrategic history, has never had a partner it didn't abandon to safeguard its own interests and push forward its own geopolitical strategy.

Although the exit of Estonia and Latvia will not undermine the China-CEEC mechanism's vitality, it will affect the two Baltic states' direct exports to China and other countries in the Asia-Pacific, because other countries will soon replace them.

As for Beijing lowering its political and trade relations with Lithuania, it has done so not because of the Baltic state's exit from the China-CEEC mechanism but because Lithuania opened a "Taiwan representative office" in Vilnius and appointed a new "envoy" to Taiwan, thus crossing Beijing's redline. In every aspect it was a reckless and provocative move.

The EU has responded to the threat to China's sovereignty and territorial integrity as if it is only about economic issues, and accused China of discriminatory practices against Lithuania at the World Trade Organization, exposing its aggressive policy toward Beijing.

The willingness of leading European countries to help protect the US' interests and to harm its own is disappointing. While the EU appears confused and desperate, the US has demonstrated its power to prevent the EU from helping build a truly multipolar world order together with China and other countries.

It is not difficult to see that the Baltic states' moves are related to the US' strategy of hollowing out the one-China principle. Washington has been provoking Beijing on the Taiwan question in the hope that Beijing uses military means to reunify Taiwan with the motherland so it can use it to isolate Beijing from the international community and decouple the Chinese economy from the global economy and thus check its rise.

Perhaps the Baltic countries are among the first to play the role of new European warriors in the US' scheme of things to contain China's rise.

But we hope it is not too late to say that following the US' China policy is harmful to the stability, peace and prosperity of Europe. For it will make Europe politically and economically weaker, not stronger.

The author is the president of the Geoeconomic Forum Croatia.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.