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How China Is Expanding Its Influence In Southeastern, Central And Eastern Europe

November 1st, 2021 16:34

The Carnegie Endow­ment for Inter­na­tion­al Peace, a US think tank, has pub­lished a study exam­in­ing China’s increas­ing influ­ence in South­east­ern, Cen­tral, and East­ern Europe. The report argues that China’s pres­ence has brought socioe­co­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties to Geor­gia, Greece, Hun­gary, and Roma­nia while at the same time exac­er­bat­ing gov­er­nance short­falls, under­min­ing ele­ments of polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic sta­bil­i­ty, and com­pli­cat­ing the Euro­pean Union’s abil­i­ty to reach con­sen­sus on key issues. Accord­ing to the Carnegie study:

Octo­ber 13, 2021 China’s rapid glob­al rise has cre­at­ed new chal­lenges for the Unit­ed States, the Euro­pean Union (EU), and indi­vid­ual Euro­pean gov­ern­ments. Bei­jing pro­vides an alter­na­tive to the West and offers ready-made solu­tions to coun­tries seek­ing eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment. Yet Chi­na also takes advan­tage of local vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and weaknesses—such as frag­ile state insti­tu­tions, elite cap­ture, and weak civ­il society—to exert its own eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, and  soft pow­er influ­ence. One region where Bei­jing has made sig­nif­i­cant inroads is South­east­ern, Cen­tral, and East­ern Europe. For Chi­na, this region is par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing as an entry  point into the rest of Europe for the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive (BRI), with growth oppor­tu­ni­ties for Chi­nese com­pa­nies and with more favor­able reg­u­la­to­ry and eco­nom­ic con­di­tions  than in West­ern Europe. […]

While Chi­na can seek to have polit­i­cal influ­ence on indi­vid­ual coun­tries through  devel­op­ing bilat­er­al ties, it is typ­i­cal­ly more inter­est­ed in lever­ag­ing polit­i­cal influ­ence to  have a wider region­al impact such as indi­rect­ly influ­enc­ing Euro­pean con­sen­sus and transat­lantic align­ment on par­tic­u­lar issues of con­cern to Bei­jing such as human rights and the  sit­u­a­tions in the South Chi­na Sea, Hong Kong, Xin­jiang, or Tai­wan. For exam­ple, both  Greece and Hun­gary have on dif­fer­ent occa­sions come to China’s aid to under­mine or block  Euro­pean Union state­ments on cer­tain issues per­tain­ing to China. […]

To vary­ing degrees, Bei­jing has active­ly engaged in the region to fos­ter a pos­i­tive image of  itself, pro­mote its polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic mod­el, and shape local nar­ra­tives about rela­tions  with Chi­na in all four coun­tries. […] How­ev­er, rather than try­ing to win hearts and minds more wide­ly, China’s soft pow­er  efforts are most­ly direct­ed at cer­tain key influ­en­tial elites in busi­ness, pol­i­tics, acad­e­mia, or  NGOs. Chi­nese Con­fu­cius Insti­tutes and aca­d­e­m­ic part­ner­ships in all four coun­tries tend  to be small-scale, but the mas­sive planned con­struc­tion of a Fudan Uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus in  Hun­gary, if com­plet­ed, would con­sti­tute a major upgrade in China’s soft pow­er pres­ence  at a time when aca­d­e­m­ic free­dom in the coun­try is already in decline.

Read the full study here.

The Carnegie report also lists the fol­low­ing rec­om­men­da­tions to US, Euro­pean and region­al governments:

  • Avoid depict­ing South­east­ern, Cen­tral, and East­ern Europe as a Chi­nese Trojan
    horse
  • Don’t over­play China’s eco­nom­ic influence
  • Bet­ter under­stand local interests
  • Avoid assign­ing strate­gic sig­nif­i­cance to all of China’s actions
  • Pro­mote good gov­er­nance and build local resilience
  • Strength­en civ­il soci­ety capacity
  • Don’t over­fo­cus on soft power
  • Be present and pro­vide alternatives
  • Hold Orbán and his cronies accountable
  • Lever­age West­ern attractiveness
  • Reas­sure small­er states that the West has a lot to offer
  • Deny Chi­na diplo­mat­ic openings