Dear reader,

In this newsletter: Hungary in a bind over its tight China ties, a Slovak delegation visits Taiwan, Poland sends mixed signals on Russia, and the EU presents its competitor to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Hungary is increasingly finding itself in a bind over its China ties. At the beginning of December, Budapest did not oppose the renewal of EU sanctions on Chinese officials and entities over the human rights abuses in Xinjiang, first implemented in March. This is despite the fact that Hungary has previously criticized the sanctions, after it, however begrudgingly, voted for them the first time. According to information from diplomatic sources, Orbán's government may be trying to steer clear of controversial China-related issues for now, so as to avoid empowering the domestic opposition. This suspicion seems to be confirmed by the unusually low profile treatment given to some Chinese projects launched recently.

Indeed, the opposition led by Péter Márki-Zay has made ties with China and Russia a key instrument to target the government in the ongoing pre-election campaign. Particularly in his outreach to foreign partners, Péter Márki-Zay has stressed that his government will change the orientation of Hungarian foreign policy if elected in the April 2022 general vote.

At the same time, the Orbán government has heightened its rhetoric about the alleged foreign interference in the Hungarian elections. This has included the incendiary insinuation that the US is trying to depose Orbán. Giving Orbán potential ammunition on this front, Hungary was not invited to the upcoming Summit for Democracy organized by the US, the only EU member state to be left off of the guest list. In reaction, Budapest decided to veto the EU’s official participation as a bloc at the summit.

Presenting the opposition as pawns of foreign powers is proving to be a key election strategy. According to Budapest, it will not allow “external forces” to influence its China policy, as highlighted by Foreign Minister Peter Péter Szijjártó in a recent call with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. In the following months, we might thus expect the Orbán government to balance its efforts to avoid galvanizing the opposition with the need to exhibit a strong partnership with Beijing.

  • Slovak delegation visits Taiwan. Led by Deputy Economy Minister Karol Galek and MFA Director General Lucia Kišš, the Slovak delegation visits Taiwan this week, representing the highest-level visit to the island since Slovakia opened its representative office in Taiwan in 2003. The visit follows mutual support, described as a “circle of good” by Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen,” in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. This warming of ties arguably began with Taiwan’s provision of face masks at the early stages of the pandemic, elevated lately by Slovakia’s reciprocal donation of 160,000 vaccine doses in September of this year. During the recent visit, Galek emphasized that “Slovakia is ready to become an equal partner, and not only in good but also in the hard times of the current pandemic situation.” Indeed, the October visit of the Taiwan delegation to Slovakia resulted in the signing of seven memoranda of understanding, aimed at boosting cooperation in various areas, such as supply chains, R&D, trade, tourism, and ‘smart cities’. As apparent from the recent developments in Slovakia, exchanges between Taiwan and EU countries have increased markedly, highlighting the potential for intensified cooperation. For instance, Taiwan announced its intention to cooperate in chip production with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Lithuania, including granting scholarships to students from these countries to study the semiconductor industry in Taiwan. Nevertheless, it is crucial to note that these proclamations remain to be translated into reality. The visit of the Slovak delegation was met with an expected condemnation from the Chinese MFA, accusing Slovakia of violating the “One China Principle”, supporting Taiwanese independence forces, and damaging mutual political trust. While Slovakia seemed to have avoided the brunt of Chinese criticism for its interaction with Taiwan recently, it can be assumed that the high-level nature of the visit and presence of MFA officials irked China this time.

  • Warsaw sending mixed signals. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called attention to “destabilization” efforts made by the Kremlin in Eastern Europe, pointing to Russia‘s role in the migrant crisis on the Polish-Belarussian border. Poland has also been one of the countries most concerned with Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine, with the potential of an all-out invasion being taken very seriously in NATO and EU capitals. All the while calling for a stronger approach towards Russia, the political goals of the leadership sometimes go in an opposite direction. Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party hosted the meeting of far-right leaders from Europe last week, including France’s Marine le Pen and Santiago Abascal of Spain’s Vox party. There were expectations that the leaders would form a new Euroskeptic group in the European Parliament, but it did not materialize. Still, Le Pen caused controversy when in an interview for a Polish newspaper, she called Ukraine a part of the Russian sphere of influence. These statements were not unexpected, as Le Pen and other far-right leaders across Europe including Viktor Orbán in Hungary and Matteo Salvini in Italy are known for their cozy relationship with Russia. Indeed, Polish leadership’s leading European partners generally have a very different understanding of the geopolitical environment. In the end, while Poland attracts attention to the efforts of Russia to destabilize Europe, the current leadership may be contributing to centrifugal tendencies within the EU itself.
  • The EU reveals the Global Gateway, its BRI competitor. After a long wait, the EU has announced its global infrastructure initiative Global Gateway. The €300 billion initiative is a not-so-subtle response to the Chinese activities around the world under the moniker of the Belt and Road Initiative, developed since 2013. The EU has highlighted that the Global Gateway seeks to be sustainable, transparent, in line with international norms and standards and in keeping with the EU’s democratic values. This should provide an alternative for the countries in the developing world with needs in both soft and hard infrastructure, a development gap that China has so far proved most adept at filling up. However, the Global Gateway will not just be about building a viable competitor in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere, but also in the direct European neighborhood. Here, Chinese investments with a heavy economic footprint or debt burden, such as the highway in Montenegro, alerted Brussels to the growing role of China at the EU’s doorstep. Whether the EU will be able to present a more attractive offer than China, which has paced ahead in the global infrastructure game due to low-cost and no-questions-asked approach, remains to be seen.

  • The leader of MapInfluenCE, Ivana Karásková, commented on the CEE-China Institute based in Hungary for EurActiv, emphasizing its political background (read here).

  • Filip Šebok co-authored a study for the NATO STRATCOM CoE on the use of strategic narratives by China in the NATO countries and how to effectively counter them (read here).

  • Matej Šimalčík shared his reading of the recent visit of Slovak delegation ot Taiwan and China's reaction (read here).

  • Ivana Karásková provided her insights regarding the tensions between China and Lithuania (read here).

  • Listen to the MERICS podcast with Ivana Karásková and learn more about China's disinformation efforts and propaganda in Europe (listen here).

An online debate titled “Disinformation - Common Challenges Facing Taiwan and the European Union: Taiwan's Experience” is happening tomorrow, December 9, starting at 10.30 CET. Learn more on disinformation with MapInfluenCE Leader Ivana Karásková and Ketty W. Chen from Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. Opening remarks will be provided by Ambassador Ming-Yen Tsai, IRI President Daniel Twining and MEP Andrius Kubilius.


Best regards

Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE

Newsletter authors: Filip Šebok, Veronika Blablová

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE








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