Dear reader,

in this newsletter, we cover the visit of the Taiwanese delegation in Czechia and Slovakia, the views of the new Hungarian opposition leader on China and Russia, the growth of AliExpress in Poland, and Russia's instrumentalization of historical memory.

Countries of Central and Eastern Europe have recently stood at the forefront of the push for closer relations with Taiwan. This trend was highlighted by the recent visit of the Taiwanese delegations to Slovakia, Czechia, and Lithuania.

The choice of destination was no accident. All the aforementioned countries have recently donated COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan and have in various ways expressed interest in boosting ties. However, Poland was not to be found on the itinerary, despite being the biggest vaccine donor from Europe. This might be due to the fact that the Polish government has at the same time been wary of damaging ties with China, which made hosting a Taiwanese delegation in the current climate a no-go.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted to the visits in an unsurprising way, vowing unspecified repercussions. In light of the previous experience with Beijing’s rhetorical bellicosity, these threats were met with next to indifference. Interestingly, while the Chinese Embassy in Prague released a statement on the visit, the Bratislava mission remained silent. The difference may be due to the fact that Foreign Minister Joseph Wu was given an official welcome in the Czech Senate, while his program in Slovakia was limited to informal meetings.

Taiwanese delegation, as well as local politicians, went to great lengths to highlight the shared values fostering the partnership. In his speeches, Minister Wu directly alluded to the shared experience of fighting domestic authoritarian regimes in the late 1980s. As such, Wu framed the threat coming from China as a part of the global authoritarian challenge.

Apart from the shared values, there was a key pragmatic underpinning to the visits. Many in both Slovakia and Czechia see Taiwan as an opportunity for economic diplomacy, especially in terms of cooperation in frontier technology industries. Most prominently discussed is Taiwan's prowess in the semiconductor industry and the potential relocation of some of the supply chains to Europe. The actual likelihood of Czechia or Slovakia directly profiting from this is uncertain as, among other reasons, there is competition from bigger European players who are pressuring Taiwanese enterprises to localize production there.

In any case, ties with Taiwan are only set to grow closer. In Slovakia, a visit of the Deputy Minister of Industry to Taiwan with a business delegation is in the works. An unknown variable so far is the specific nature of the upcoming Czech government’s approach to Taiwan. While momentum for boosting relations can be expected, to what extent Prague will follow the Lithuanian model and lean into upholding political ties remains to be seen.

  • The new leader of the Hungarian opposition promises changes to the country's China and Russia policy. The Hungarian opposition primaries led to a rather surprising victory of the conservative politician Péter Márki-Zay. The mayor of the South Hungarian town of Hódmezővásárhely will now lead the united opposition in the 2022 elections, which are poised to become a referendum on Viktor Orbán and his long rule. For Márki-Zay, dismantling the “illiberal democracy” regime that Orbán has sought to build over the past few years will be a primary preoccupation. However, the foreign policy agenda will be in lock-step with these efforts as Orbán has gradually made Hungary into a key partner of both Russia and China in the EU, often undermining common EU policy. In a recent interview for Slovak media, Márki-Záv indicated this will have to change, saying that his policy will “follow Hungarian national interests and not those of Vladimir Putin or the Chinese Communist Party.” The opposition leader accused Orbán of not being a “loyal member of the Western community,” pointing to Budapest‘s stance on Huawei or the decision not to extradite Russian arms dealers to the US. Márki-Zay particularly criticized the flagship projects of the China-Hungary cooperation, the Budapest-Belgrade railway, and the planned campus of the Fudan University in Budapest, vowing to revisit and potentially abrogate the agreements if elected.
  • Alibaba is boosting its position in Central Europe. Chinese internet giant is opening a new logistics center near Łódź. Apart from Poland, the new center is set to serve clients in Czechia, Austria, Slovakia, and Germany. Alibaba's e-commerce platform AliExpress has had an important position in Central and Eastern Europe, entering the region in 2017. In Poland, it is the third most popular platform after its competitors Allegro and OLX. The chief global rival of AliExpress, Amazon, has a dominant position in Western Europe but does not even reach the top 10 in Central and Eastern Europe. After the new EU VAT rules kicked in this year, AliExpress lost some of its competitive edge. However, it has been trying to fight back with localization of distribution or also attracting local sellers to join its platform. Poland itself has been a key market for AliExpress, as the e-commerce market has seen dramatic growth, rising some 33 percent last year. In the context of the generally waning interest of Chinese investors in the EU market, the Alibaba case presents an interesting exception.

  • History is a potent weapon in Moscow's hands. The country commemorated the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Political Repressions on October 31. Ironically, it has been overshadowed by a crackdown against civil society, independent activists, and historians, such as Yuri Dmitriev, who try to research and speak openly about the issues of historical memory. One of the NGOs affected, the International Memorial based in Moscow, has experienced unprecedented pressure from the authorities, seriously impacting their work. However, the sensitive role of history has not been limited to domestic politics and has often spilled over to the troubled ties of Russia with countries in Central Europe. To discuss the issue of historical memory that Putin's Russia tries to instrumentalize for its own political goals, the Czech and Polish ministries of foreign affairs together with the Czech-Polish Forum are organizing an international conference “History as a Weapon: Russia, Czechia, Poland and the Politicization of the History of the 20th Century”, which should allow for a meaningful exchange of best practices and experience between both countries on how to better understand and counterbalance the Russian disinformation and politicization of historical memory, particularly related to World War II and other thorny issues of the 20th century's fraught history.
  • “There is definitely China fatigue in the region. The expected influx of Chinese investment has not materialized…and the countries are now more interested in exploring ways of cooperating with Taiwan,” noted Ivana Karásková in comments for the Wall Street Journal (read here).

  • Filip Šebok discussed the potential developments of Czech-China relations in a Chinese-language podcast for Radio Taiwan International (read here).

  • Our Hungarian analyst Dominik Istrate dissected the disinformation narratives surrounding the Hungarian opposition leader Márki-Záy (read here).

  • Matej Šimalčík talked to the Japanese broadcaster NHK about the changes in Central Europe that have brought about an opening towards China (read here).

  • Alicja Bachulska commented the visit of the European Parliament's official delegation to Taiwan and the opportunities for EU-Taiwan ties (read here).

Best regards

Filip Šebok

Project Manager of MapInfluenCE

Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

Contributions from: Pavel Havlíček, Veronika Blablová

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE








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