Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

Coming out of the Shadows: The Polish Perspective on China-Central and Eastern Europe Relations

Academic journal article International Issues & Slovak Foreign Policy Affairs

Coming out of the Shadows: The Polish Perspective on China-Central and Eastern Europe Relations

Article excerpt

Re-discovery

In the last two decades, Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) have not played an important role in China's foreign policy and vice-versa. Neither side has been very interested in the other. During the post-1989 political and economic transformations, CEE countries were preoccupied with domestic affairs, while foreign policy was focused on improving relations with neighbors and joining NATO and the EU. China was a distant partner and not seen as a priority country. At the same time, after the Tiananmen massacre, the PRC implemented its taoguang yanghui strategy, concentrating on domestic issues and keeping a low profile in foreign policy.

EU membership did not change China-CEE relations remarkably. Relations were adequate but not very intensive. Beijing's policy towards this region was embedded within the framework of EU-China relations, and new members were lef t behind the "old" EU - China's most important economic partners.

The situation started to change once the global financial and economic crisis hit. CEE began to notice that China is an economic and political partner to be reckoned with - due to China's impressive GDP growth, the way it coped with the crisis, and its status as the world's second largest economy. Meanwhile, despite the crisis, the PRC started to look at CEE as a stable region - especially in economic terms.

At the beginning China decided to strengthen bilateral ties with CEE countries (e.g. in 2009 it signed a strategic partnership with Serbia, and in 2011 with Poland). But in mid-2011 Beijing took the first step to launch cooperation with CEE as a region. In June Prime Minister Wen Jiabao took part in the first China-CEE economic forum in Budapest, at which it presented proposals for closer cooperation.1

China-led new format of cooperation

The real milestone came in mid-2012 when Wen visited Poland. Apart from holding talks about bilateral ties with Polish officials, he met with 16 leaders from Central, Eastern and Southern European countries.2 He announced the "Twelve Measures" - China's new engagement strategy in the region. It is a list of steps to be taken by the Chinese government to enhance cooperation with CEE. It consists of short and medium-term goals. Most of them are economic pledges, e.g. a 10 billion US dollar credit line, a 500 million US dollar investment fund, and dispatching Chinese trade missions to the CEE, but non-economic proposals, such as providing scholarships or establishing China-CEE research funds, were also included.3

Wen's visit marked the establishment of a new mechanism of China- CEE cooperation called 16+1 - a formula of annual meetings at head of government level between China and sixteen CEE countries, and lower-tier gatherings using the same format.

At that time the Warsaw meeting was perceived as an ad hoc gathering. But the setting up (in September 2012) of a China-CEE Secretariat within the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs to coordinate Chinese institutions involved in the 16+1 and to liaise with CEE16,4 followed by the second 16+1 summit, held in Bucharest in late 2013, was enough evidence that China is seeking a regular, annual format for its cooperation with CEE countries. The reason is the need to establish a mechanism which facilitates ties with small states and enables them to get to know one another better. In that sense 16+1 is a Chinese initiative designed to get CEE's attention and bring countries together, since it is easier for China to cooperate with a larger entity.

Towards more balanced and joint cooperation

Despite Wen Jiabao's attention-grabbing speech outlining his proposals for CEE, the "Twelve Measures" should not be perceived simply as an economic offer. Taking into account the number of countries involved, the idea that China is seeking to boost ties with the CEE was more of a political declaration. In fact "Twelve Measures" was a unilateral Chinese idea and implementation was initiated and carried out by China in China. …

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