Dear reader,

as 2020 faded into 2021, there has been no shortage of interesting developments for us to cover. This time we take a closer look at the rushed conclusion of the EU-China investment agreement, the future of Huawei in Central Europe, the controversies surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines in Hungary as well as the downspiralling Czech-Russia relationship. 

The final weeks of 2020 have seen a flurry of unexpected developments that finally led to the conclusion of the negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) between the EU and China. The deal, seven years in the making, has become widely controversial. While both sides have committed to concluding the negotiations by the end of 2020, it seemed unrealistic due to different positions on crucial issues as well as the wider context of assertive Chinese diplomacy in 2020 in Europe. In the end, the German presidency did everything possible to push the negotiations through, rushing the final deal hastily despite some opposition from other member states and also calls from prominent European experts not to proceed with the deal, including MapInfluenCE leader Ivana Karásková and analyst Matej Šimalčík. For example, Poland has made its reservations about the US not being consulted on the issue, despite an explicit call from the incoming Biden administration.

The most controversial aspect of the deal is the issue of forced labor, a highly relevant topic related to forced labor programs for Uyghurs and other minorities in China. On this issue, Beijing only made superficial commitments, which, however, seemed enough for the European negotiators. Beijing has seemed to sweeten the deal with commitments for increased market access in key areas, pledges for sustainable development, transparency in subsidies, and activities of state-owned enterprises. The key part will, of course, be the enforcement of the deal, with European negotiators promising it will actually have teeth. The record of China’s keeping of international commitments is not promising, but we may expect China to pragmatically move in areas where it itself sees reform necessary.

From the Central European perspective, the rushing of the deal by the German-Franco steamroller, as described by MapinfluenCE analyst Matej Šimalčík for Euractiv, does not bode well for the unity of EU’s China policy. At the same time, except for Poland, all the other Visegrad countries have been noticeably silent on the issue of CAI, despite it being the most significant geopolitical development of the year. As a Slovak saying goes, “a mute child cannot be understood even by his own mother”- if the countries do not speak up on relevant issues of foreign policy, they cannot hope to be fully involved in its formation.      

  • The Chinese involvement in the 5G buildup remains a pertinent issue all across Europe. The new paper by our sister project CHOICE edited by Ivana Karásková provides a most up-to-date look at the current state of debate and relevant regulations in place as regards the inclusion of Huawei in the 5G network buildup in seven countries of Central and Eastern Europe. MapInfluenCE analysts authored the sections on the individual Visegrad countries. Crucially, the paper goes beyond the current situation and puts forward predictions for the future trajectory of the development of the countries’ policy on 5G. In short, while Poland, Czechia and Slovakia are all slowly moving towards the exclusion of Chinese vendors, Hungary remains very much open for business. Yet, the prospects for Huawei across the region will also be decided by the evolution of the German approach, whether the Biden administration keeps pressure on the issue, the economic calculations of local telecommunication companies as well as the results of the upcoming elections, such as in the case of Czechia. In the longterm, it will be interesting to see whether Beijing decides to retaliate against countries banning Chinese vendors, although if the current trends continue, it may become unfeasible.  

  • At the end of 2020, the Czech-Russian relations reached a new low. The Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned sharply Russia’s adding of the Prague Civil Society Centre to the list of “undesirable organisations”. The Ministry that has continuously supported the Centre emphasized the importance of civil society for the development of the democratic system and claimed that it remains committed to supporting civil society organisations in the future. The Prague Centre is second in a row of Czech organisations that were blacklisted by Russia after another NGO People in Need. Similarly, the Czech senators under the leadership of Marek Hilšer appealed to their Russian counterparts from the Council of the Federation to refuse a new series of legislative proposals relating to the civil society, namely the multiple changes to the “foreign agent” law. In their open letter, they called to the end of burning of bridges between both societies and Russia's isolation from the international community and international norms and values. By the most recent escalation, the leadership in Kremlin hopes to prepare the Russian society for the upcoming September parliamentary elections, which will be crucial for the survival of Putin's regime.

  • Hungary has been the only EU country to consider Russian vaccines for public use. This resulted in a feud with the EU since Hungary also signed up for the bloc’s joint vaccination efforts. Viktor Orbán continuously blames “Brussels” for being slow and ineffective in the vaccines’ rollout whereas EU regulatory loopholes allow all member states to approve vaccines on their own for their population. Clearly, Orbán’s attacks on the EU are merely a domestic political campaign to shift public opinion away from the government’s poor record on crisis management. The Hungarian Prime Minister started exploring non-EU vaccines at the time when the pandemic got out of control (November), hoping that this would help him contain the crisis and strengthen his political position. As for the Russian vaccine, 6,000 doses of which arrived in Hungary in December for clinical testing, the motivation to explore Sputnik V’s potential public use was most likely political. Budapest gave the Kremlin, which is promoting a controversial vaccine and looking for political gains in Europe, a helping hand in this matter. However, in the end, the Hungarian government acknowledged that it is expecting vaccines only through the EU and from China because Russia does not have enough production capacities. What is more, Orbán’s flirt with the controversial vaccine has fuelled the already alarming level of vaccine hesitancy among Hungarians.

  • In yet another episode of the Voice for CHOICE podcast, MapInfluenCE analyst Matej Šimalčík sat down to talk about the recent results of the opinion survey on China across European countries (listen here).

  • MapInfluenCE Russia research coordinator Pavel Havlíček writes for Info.cz that the Putin regime is doing everything possible to decimate the opposition and the last remnants of the civil society before the September elections (read here, in Czech).

  • Alicja Bachulska discussed the prospects of China‘s "Me Too" movement for Gazeta.pl (read here, in Polish).

  • Adam Lelonek commented on the worrying state of the anti-vaccination sentiment in Poland and beyond, spearheaded partly by state actors as a part of disinformation efforts (read here, in Polish).

  • Matej Šimalčík and Filip Šebok have contributed several chapters to the new book published by CEIAS in Slovakia, a first of its kind overview of the social, political and economic environment of contemporary China published in Slovak language (read here).

  • Hungary has offered a plot of land worth EUR 2.3 million for free to the Fudan University that is going to build its campus in Budapest with the planned opening in 2024 (read here, in Hungarian).

Best regards


Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE
www.mapinfluence.eu
www.amo.cz

Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

Contributions from: Pavel Havlíček, Dominik Istrate

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE

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