Dear readers,

The MapInfluenCE newsletter makes its long-awaited return to your mailbox after a summer break!

The last few weeks have seen no shortage of interesting developments deserving your attention. In this issue, we will zoom in on the recent signals of goodwill toward Taiwan from CEE nations, the upcoming German elections, Sinopharm‘s breakthrough in Hungary, and the arrest of a Russian citizen suspected of involvement in the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Following the lead of Lithuania, Slovakia, and Czechia, Poland has become the fourth EU country to donate vaccines to Taiwan in recent months. In early September, Warsaw gifted 400,000 doses of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, the third-largest (after the US and Japan) donation to the island nation as it battles a COVID-19 outbreak after a remarkable streak of keeping infections to a minimum.

The list of donors clearly shows that Taiwan has established an important foothold in CEE, which has paradoxically often been seen as beholden to China in the past. The donations also come as reciprocal acts for Taiwan’s donation of PPE to countries in the region in the initial stages of the pandemic.  The Taiwanese government made sure to promote the donations as acts of international support, expressing gratitude very prominently and effusively. This included lighting the Taipei 101 skyscraper in the colors of the donor nations, and, more substantively, accompanying them with high-level political pronouncements.

Yet, one should not overemphasize the meaning of these moves by some of the CEE countries and avoid the same pitfalls that have surrounded the “China in CEE” debate. Lithuania stands out, of course, as the donation comes within the context of the more substantial changes in Taiwan policy, including the establishment of a “Taiwan” representative office in Vilnius, which has provoked China’s ire. On the other hand, in the cases of Czechia and Slovakia, the gift is largely symbolic.

Poland’s case is perhaps the most interesting of all. Warsaw has been recently adjusting its stance towards Beijing, hedging against some of the negative developments in ties with the US and Germany. After the donation, Polish FM Zbigniew Rau made sure to stress that the move does not mean any change in Poland’s One China Policy. Illustrating the uneasy position in aiding Taiwan, the Polish Foreign Ministry deleted a tweet on the donation that contained an emoji depicting the Taiwanese flag.

Still, there is some hope that the donation, apart from resulting in the growth of Taiwanese goodwill towards the CEE nations, will also lead to more institutionalized cooperation. The news that a Taiwanese business delegation is set to visit Lithuania, Czechia, and Slovakia at the end of October signals that it may indeed be possible.  

  • German elections are right around the corner, and the V4 countries are following the developments closely. With Germany being a key economic and political partner for the countries, such attention is only warranted. One of the key issues to follow is the future of German policy on China and Russia. The Greens, who have promised the most dramatic change from the previous foreign policy direction, have dived sharply in polls but may still play a key role in the new coalition.  The unusually dynamic development of polls makes it impossible to predict the final results. Nevertheless, it can be expected that even if the more status quo-inclined SPD or CDU emerge as the kingmaker, foreign policy is up for a change. On China policy, the consensus has been moving slowly, but surely toward a reassessment of ties with China. Beijing is apparently nervous about losing a strong ally like Merkel in the EU, which was apparent in the praise heaped on the German chancellor in the recent “goodbye call” with China’s leader Xi Jinping.                                                                              
  • Hungary signed a memorandum of cooperation with the Chinese vaccine manufacturer Sinohparm and its production partner in the UAE to domestically produce China’s leading vaccine. The memorandum eyes the establishment of a vaccine production facility within 10 months, which will be established in Debrecen. Hungary remains the only country in the EU using the Sinopharm vaccine as the inoculation has yet to gain EU-wide approval. Recently, concerns have been raised about the efficacy of the Chinese vaccine, especially in light of the delta variant, which has led to a debate about booster shots. Hungary thus became the first EU country to offer a third dose to its citizens. Sinopharm is also set to gain footing in neighboring Serbia, another prominent user of the Chinese vaccine, where the foundation stone of the new factory was laid on September 9. While the Sino-Hungarian deal is yet another symbol of a close political partnership, it may also bring economic benefits to Hungary in terms of vaccine exports.  As there is no end in sight for the COVID-19 pandemic, demand is likely to remain robust.
  • Czech authorities detained Russian citizen Aleksandr Franchetti who is wanted by Ukraine for his alleged involvement in the illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. Franchetti is suspected of leading a separatist paramilitary group in the vicinity of Sevastopol. He has maintained an irregular residence in the Czech Republic since the 1990s. In its reaction, Russian authorities accused the Czech Republic of “misusing mechanisms of international law […] for political purposes.” If the Czech authorities decide to proceed with extradition and Franchetti is found guilty, he could face up to eight years in a Ukrainian prison. The case could further strain the already troubled relations between Prague and Moscow, which have reached a bottom after the involvement of Russia in the 2014 blast of the Vrbětice ammo depot. 

  • MapInfluenCE analyst Filip Šebok talked about EU-China relations and how China sees cooperation with Russia in CEE for Radio Free Europe (in Russian) (read here).

  • MapInfluenCE analyst Matej Šimalčík discussed the role of corrosive Europe from China Central Europe for Deutsche Welle, building upon his recent study (read the study here).

  • Leader of MapInfluenCE Ivana Karásková discussed the upcoming Czech elections for the Euronews (read here).

  • Small Czech towns around Prague have hosted dozens to hundreds of delegations from China in the past decade, without leading to meaningful cooperation. The main motivation for the interest in inconspicuous Czech towns seems to be getting visa to Europe and exhibiting international activity on the side of Chinese cities, commented Filip Šebok for Deník N. The interesting phenomena was uncovered by our analysts within a joint research of AMO and CEIAS on the relations between Czech and Slovak cities and Chinese partners. The final publication of the research will be published soon (read here).                                                                                                                               
  • MapInfluenCE analyst Alicja Bachulska examined what lessons Taiwan's experience with China's propaganda disinformation can offer to the CEE countries for The Diplomat (read here).                                                                  
  • “There appears to be frustration with Ukraine’s long-term aspirations for NATO and EU membership being unanswered, despite Ukraine’s commitment to the West,” Filip Šebok commented on the recent signs of warming Ukraine-China relations (read here).                                                      
  • Matej Šimalčík analyzed the recent developments in Taiwan-CEE ties for the Taiwanese CNA agency (read here). 

Concerns over China's growing influence have been tied to their eagerness to take its place as a global leader on issues such as technology, trade, security, economic and even climate issues. While at the same time, challenging the shared values and the rules-based international order that link democracies like Japan and the EU together. To add to this complexity, the EU and their long-time partner the US, have often taken diverging approaches on dealing with Beijing, often playing into the hands of China. As China seeks to both invest but also divide the region, the EU will need to continue to balance this relationship by keeping their friends close, but foes closer.

Ivana Karásková will be one of the speakers of today’s debate on China’s presence in the EU organized by EUROPEUM. You can watch the debate on Facebook here.

Best regards

Filip Šebok

Project Manager of MapInfluenCE

Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE








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