Dear reader,

In the last newsletter this year we zoom in on sub-national relations between Czech and Slovak actors and their Chinese counterparts, China's coercion against Lithuania, the emergence of Moscow-Beijing quasi-alliance, and the foreign policy expectations from the new German government.

What does local cooperation between China in Czechia and Slovakia look like? New research by Matej Šimalčík, Filip Šebok, Veronika Blablová and Adam Kalivoda published by CEIAS in cooperation with AMO digs deep into this relatively neglected area of cooperation, with a help of a survey of 241 local entities in Czechia and 126 entities in Slovakia.

Some interesting patterns can be seen.

Altogether, there are 32 subnational entities in Czechia and 14 in Slovakia that have agreement-based cooperation with Chinese entities. Regions are crucial actors with all but one in Czechia and all but two in Slovakia cooperating with Chinese partners. The Czech region of South Moravia stands out with five partnerships with Chinese counterparts, while the province of Hebei and Cangzhou city appear to be the most enthusiastic actors on the Chinese side.

In terms of the evolution of local ties, the trends seem to have mirrored developments on the bilateral level. In both countries, most of the cooperation emerged after 2012 in the context of renewed impetus for bilateral ties and the establishment of the 16+1 format.

Source: CEIAS

While the case of Prague and its terminated ties with Beijing and Shanghai caught the most media attention it is not the only such example. In three other cases since 2019, Czech local governments decided to cut ties with Chinese partners. Moreover, no surveyed entities expressed willingness to start new partnerships with Chinese partners, mirroring the decreasing enthusiasm in developing ties with China on the Czech side in general.

In Slovakia, subnational cooperation does not seem to have been affected to the same extent by the changing policy on the central government level. Also, there have been no partnership terminations. This also reflects the general lower politicization of China and related issues in the country, as explored in the paper.

However, political issues have always been present in the cooperation with Chinese partners. As highlighted in the research, the approach taken by Beijing and Shanghai on the Taiwan issue reflects the Chinese regulations on international partnerships. These parameters expect Chinese subnational actors to be subservient to the larger goals of Chinese foreign policy and therefore explicitly require them to demand specific treatment of the Taiwan issue from foreign partners.

Political affiliation also seems to play a role in the promotion of local ties. Similar to their role in pushing for ties with China on the government level, it was mostly the Social Democrats (ČSSD) who were in power in localities when cooperation agreements with Chinese partners were signed. Similarly, in Slovakia, SMER-SD representatives stood behind most of the local-level agreements. Interestingly, several ČSSD-connected businessmen and former ministers such as Jaroslav Tvrdík, Jan Kohout, and Petr Petržílek have been engaged in mediating the ties. In some cases, the cooperation was even outsourced to private actors on behalf of local governments.

To read more on this and many other findings of the research, see the whole study below.

  • Chinese coercion against Lithuania tests EU unity. In its reaction to Lithuania's decision to let Taiwan open an office using “Taiwan” in its name in Vilnius, China is not pulling any punches. The informal trade boycott, including pressure on multinationals to cut ties with Lithuania, was followed by an unprecedented demand from Lithuania to demote the official level of its Embassy in Beijing to a chargé d'affaires office. After they were asked to hand in their diplomat IDs, Lithuanian diplomats were withdrawn home from Beijing in consideration of their safety. The EU stepped in to ask Beijing for clarification on its actions, but it so far has not led to any results. The timing of the escalation could not be more curious as the EU Commission just revealed its proposal for the anti-coercion instrument in early January. The proposed tool is designed to counter the very same external pressure on member states as we are seeing in Lithuania right now. While the anti-coercion instrument will not be put in place for some time, the Lithuania-China spat is already a crucial test for EU unity. Importantly, it will be key to observe whether the EU will sacrifice its ongoing effort to re-engage China with the need to project a strong and united posture to express support for Lithuania. If its coercion is left unopposed, China might use the same tactics on any other member state in the future. Indeed, this seems to be the calculation in Beijing that is seeking to walk out from the crisis with a bolstered deterrent in its hands. The Czech Republic, with a pro-Taiwan government having just assumed office, might be one of the next targets. 

  • Moscow and Beijing are getting cozier. Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping held yet another one-on-one online meeting last Wednesday, attracting global attention. However, the frequent high-level contact is but one of the signs of the increasingly close Moscow-Beijing cooperation. While habitually dismissed as a “marriage of convenience” the increasingly robust partnership cannot be ignored. The Chinese readout of the meeting stated that Russia supports China’s position on Taiwan and its opposition to “small groupings” in the Pacific (a reference to the US-led AUKUS and the Quad), while the Kremlin noted alleged Chinese support for Russia’s quest for security guarantees in Eastern Europe. While it is typical that statements of the other sites are cherry-picked and adapted to suit one’s interest, the apparent mutual support for strategic interest is noteworthy. At the same time, the expectations that Russia and China might coordinate their moves on Taiwan and Ukraine still seem far-fetched. Despite the Kremlin's curious reference to the relationship as those between allies, explicit mutual defense commitments are highly unlikely given they would unnecessarily constrain the policy space for both capitals. In any case, the growing alignment between Russia and China will hardly go unnoticed in Central and Eastern Europe. When China entered the region, it had the benefit of lacking the historical baggage associated with Moscow. Now, by aligning itself closely with the country that is seen as a primary security threat to a host of nations on the Eastern flank of NATO and EU, China is making its position in the region only more precarious.
  • The new government in Berlin outlines its foreign policy. The German three-party government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz may struggle to find a common ground in terms of navigating foreign policy, especially towards China and Russia. During the 16-year Merkel era, the German policy towards China was defined by a pragmatic approach focusing on economic cooperation. Chancellor Scholz has so far taken a careful tone on China, balancing the focus on human rights with economic cooperation and “the fact that a country of China's size and history has a place in the international concert of powers.” In fact, the coalition agreement calls China not only a strategic partner but also a systemic rival, in line with the EU definition. Moreover, this document specifically refers to the status of Taiwan, human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and the threats to the “one country, two systems” arrangement in Hong Kong. Similarly, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, appointed by the Greens, emphasizes the importance of a values-driven foreign policy and is expected to put more focus on the human rights dimension in international affairs in general. The Greens have strongly condemned the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and Baerbock has also mentioned potential import bans on products originating in the Xinjiang province. Nevertheless, the Chancellor traditionally plays a decisive role in formulating the foreign policy and Baerbocks’s powers may be limited. As such, the intended shift of the political course may be hindered by economic considerations. Indeed, trade ties may also be abused by Beijing as evident in the recent pressure on German car companies to refrain from using components manufactured in Lithuania. However, Berlin may in the end be forced to adopt a tougher stance due to discrepancies between Xi Jinping’s call to “promote bilateral ties to a new level” and China’s diplomatic behavior.

  • MapInfluenCE’s leader Ivana Karásková participated in the debate on disinformation hosted by the International Republican Institute (IRI), specifically focusing on Taiwan’s experience (watch here).

  • Ivana also talked about China’s disinformation and propaganda operation patterns in the EU in the MERICS podcast (listen here).

  • “Over the past year, we have seen a change in Slovak policy towards both Taiwan and China,” commented our Slovak analyst Matej Šimalčík for Taiwan Plus News (watch here).

  • Our analyst on Russia Pavel Havlíček shared his thoughts in the debate titled “The Resilience of the Eastern Partnership” organized by the Institute of International Relations, Prague, discussing the role of the V4 countries in the region (watch here).

With this, we would like to wish you happy holidays and all the best in 2022! 

This year, we have published six research papers in five different languages, our analysts presented at 127 different events and were quoted more than 600 times.

We will be back with more research and analysis in your inboxes soon.

Best regards

Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE

Newsletter authors: Filip Šebok, Veronika Blablová

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE








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