Dear reader,
 

In this newsletter:  EU fails to forge a common approach to the Beijing Olympics, the V4 countries react to the Russia-Ukraine crisis, the Hungarian opposition secures a referendum on Fudan campus, and the EU issues guidelines on international research cooperation.

The Winter Olympics are set to start in just a week’s time, with Beijing becoming the first city to host both the summer and winter iteration of the global sports event. However, the Beijing Olympics have been overshadowed by calls for a political boycott over human rights abuses as well as the rising tide of COVID-19 infections in China. The latter, of course, is also a domestic concern threatening the government’s continuation of its “zero covid” policies.

The campaign for a political boycott of the games, motivated especially by the ongoing abuses against the Uyghur population in China, were led by the United States. After the White House announced that no officials would be present at the games in December, Australia, Canada, Great Britain and Japan soon followed with their own boycott. Several EU member states, such as the Netherlands, Lithuania and Denmark have also vowed not to send their political delegations to China’s capital. However, no consensus on the issue was reached on the EU level. Several countries have therefore used the need to arrive at a joint EU decision - a practical non-starter - as a fig leaf for their sitting on the fence on the issue. That is not to mention nations splitting the difference by withholding representation on pandemic grounds. The desire to avoid angering Beijing no doubt reigned supreme.

The microcosm of the uncoordinated stance is perhaps best exemplified by the ever-looser V4 group. The Czech government mulled an official boycott decision, but no formal statement was made in the end. Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský declared a de facto consensus on the issue in the government. Ostensibly, this consensus was calling for a boycott in line with western peers. However, the Olympic Games were explicitly supported by President Zeman, calling that declaration into question. In fact, despite the feud between Lipavský and the Czech Ambassador in Beijing Vladimír Tomšík over the latter's support for the Games, the Czech Embassy will send officials to the opening ceremony after all.

In Slovakia, both the President Zuzana Čaputová and parliament chair said they would not attend, with the President indirectly alluding to human rights concerns. The Prime Minister did not comment on the issue, adding a level of uncertainty. In contrast, the full-throated support for the Beijing Olympics by Budapest was not surprising. In an interview with the Global Times, the Hungarian envoy to Beijing cited the common refrain of “not mixing ideology and sport”.

The decision by Polish President Andrzej Duda to attend the Beijing Olympics in person could have been much more surprising news. On top of visiting the Games, Duda is also set to meet with China‘s Xi Jinping. According to the background information from Polish high-level officials, the move is clearly motivated by the worsening ties with Washington. 

  • Czechia offers help to Ukraine. The tensions on the Russia-Ukraine border are intensifying as both countries prepare for a potential military clash. Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Lipavský stated, “the Czech Republic stands by the Ukrainians and their efforts to preserve their national integrity and sovereignty.” Lipavský also aims to visit Ukraine in early February, together with his Slovak and Austrian counterparts, and proclaimed his support for sanctions against Russia. This attitude is shared by the Czech government which will provide Kyiv with 4000 artillery shells amounting to about €1.5 million. In fact, the Czech Republic belongs among the most active exporters of arms to Ukraine. The Czech army is also sending six members of special forces to undergo military drills in Ukraine in late February and early March 2022. Defense minister Černochová also emphasized the intention to coordinate this effort with other V4 countries. Polish President Andrzej Duda pledged his nation’s support for Ukraine in the case of a Russian attack. In the meantime, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is planning a visit to Moscow in early February. Finally, Slovakia remains preoccupied with the controversy over the planned defense agreement with the US, which has practically overshadowed the imminent threat to its neighbor. This lack of a common position within both NATO and EU is also visible on a larger scale. Canada has deployed a small contingent of special forces to Ukraine, the EU prepared a financial assistance package amounting to €1.2 billion and the US has placed 8,500 troops on high alert. Similarly, the United Kingdom contributed with defense systems and Baltic countries gained permission to provide US-made arms to the war-wary nation. However, other countries, such as Germany and Sweden recently prohibited sending arms to Ukraine, displaying some serious discord on policy and preparedness.

  • Hungarian opposition secures a referendum on the Fudan campus. With more than 470 thousand signatures collected, the Hungarian opposition managed to pass the hurdle for holding a referendum on the issue of the Chinese Fudan University campus in Budapest. The Hungarian voters are set to decide on whether to repeal the law transferring assets to the Fudan Hungary University Foundation. The voters will also vote on the unrelated issues of prolonging unemployment benefits. The referendum was initiated by Budapest mayor Gergely Karácsony after the issue sparked public protests. Afterward, it secured the support of the united opposition, which hopes that the referendum can be held on the same day as the April 4 parliamentary elections. The success in securing public support for the referendum is seen as a significant boon for the opposition, which has lost some ground as of late. The public vote can serve as a way to mobilize voters in the campaign against the Fidesz-led government. The Fudan campus project has been criticized for its burden on taxpayers, non-transparency, negative impacts on the Hungarian public higher education as well as corruption concerns.

  • The European Commission issues guidelines on safe research practices. In the second half of January, the EU published a guidebook containing advice for research organizations and universities on dealing with foreign interference. Despite not addressing specific actors, the guidelines reflect growing anxiety over technological competition and potential espionage from various countries, such as China. These guidelines do not aim to interrupt or demonize cross-border academic cooperation but instead to raise awareness regarding vulnerabilities arising from international cooperation and suggest potential measures to mitigate the risks. As legally non-binding, the document asserts that “each organization needs to tailor their own set of measures.” Consequently, while providing a detailed set of advice, it also puts the responsibility on institutions and universities to develop their internal mechanisms and codes of conduct. The EU guidelines follow a wider tendency to issue recommendations on national levels, with Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom leading the trend. Until now, the EU has lacked a coordinated approach in this sector (in 2020, the EU published guidance on research cooperation in dual-use items), with only a small group of EU countries paying attention to this issue, including Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, and the Czech Republic.

  • “The Chinese use of coercion against Lithuania has shown that the usual underestimation of China’s leverage by focusing solely on direct economic links that could be weaponized is no longer valid,” states analyst of MapInfluenCE Filip Šebok in his latest article for CHOICE (read here). 

  • “If Beijing succeeds in its coercion campaign, this will set a very negative precedent [with] implications for China’s behavior globally,” argues our Polish analyst Alicja Bachulska for South China Morning Post (read here).

  • Finally, Matej Šimalčík argues that the case of Chinese coercion against Lithuania should serve as a warning for Slovakia, which finds itself in a similar structural position vis-à-vis China, in an article for Slovak daily SME (read here). 

Finally, let us wish you all the best in the upcoming Year of the Tiger!

Best regards


Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE


www.mapinfluence.eu
www.amo.cz

Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

Contributions from: Filip Šebok, Veronika Blablová

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE

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