Dear readers,

welcome back for another biweekly briefing from MapInfluenCE! 

On review from a busy few weeks: the extraordinary 17+1 summit, China out of the Czech Dukovany nuclear power tender, Borrel’s ill-fated trip to Moscow, Czech PM Babiš’s flirting with Chinese and Russian vaccines and much more. 

It is difficult to recall a more eventful run-up to a 17+1 summit than this year’s China-CEEC meeting on Tuesday. 

The long-awaited gathering, originally planned for last April, was finally held online yesterday despite a lack of an official pre-announcement by China that led some to dub it “Schrödinger’s summit”

In hindsight, there is little wonder why. Chinese diplomats were apparently busy doing their utmost to get high-level representation from the participating countries at the meeting, which was chaired by China’s “great leader” Xi Jinping for the very first time. Ironically, the highest-level treatment from China comes at a time whenCEE countries are increasingly disinterested in offering their own top office-holders. In the end, six countries (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovenia) decided to send lower level officials to the meeting.

For the V4 countries, Czech President Zeman and Polish President multitasked and connected from the V4 meeting in Poland, while Slovakia and Hungary were represented by Prime Ministers Igor Matovič and Viktor Orbán respectively. In the case of Slovakia, deputy Prime Minister Eduard Heger was originally set to participate but it appears that China coaxed Matovič’s attendance at the last minute, perhaps by delivering the long-sought-after protocol on the export of Slovak lamb and goat meat to China.

In the end, the summit did not bring much in terms of new developments. For the first time, no summit guidelines were adopted at the meeting (opting for a more practical "Action Plan" instead), which attests to the somewhat tense tenor of the pre-summit negotiations. In his keynote speech, China’s Xi expectedly touted the public health cooperation between China and CEE. Xi also put vaccines on the table, offering Chinese jabs for other CEE countries that would like to follow the example of Hungary and Serbia. Xi also promised to step up imports from CEE countries, setting a goal of $170 billion in the coming 5 years. Moreover, China plans to double agricultural imports from the region. Still,  China still appears to mostly see the 17+1 as a sort of a geopolitical messaging tool, which contrasts with the interest of CEE countries in practical results. 

Chinese state media sought to play up the summit as a signal to the US, which would explain its timing shortly after the inauguration of President Biden. However, on this front, the trends seem to go in a completely different direction. All in all, while China did its utmost to take the 17+1 format off of life support, it appears the format remains nonetheless in ill health.

  • China is out, Russia stays in the game. In Czechia, representatives of the government met with majority state-owned utility ČEZ and  representatives of opposition parties on the completion of the Dukovany II Nuclear Power Plant. The long-awaited discussion, which took place in a tense atmosphere, finally culminated in some changes to the position advocated by the Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Minister of Industry and Trade Karel Havlíček. They agreed to consider the China General Nuclear (CGN) company “inadmissible” for the tender from a security point of view, as repeatedly requested by most of the opposition parties. On the other hand, there was no consensus reached on Russia‘s involvement, and Rosatom might thus at least for the time being remain in play for the largest contract in Czech history. A certain compromise was reached in terms of the length of the application procedure for the tender, which should last up to 12 months, so that there is enough time to submit well-prepared and financially sound bids. Prime Minister Babiš also proposed that the state could provide ČEZ with up to 100% of debt financing necessary for the project so that the investment costs would be reduced and the price for consumers would not increase dramatically. Other tender conditions were also discussed during the meeting, but the final option – e. g. regarding the reactor capacity limit or conditions of government lending – can be still subject to change. This discussion will continue on February 10, when the third reading of the law proposal on the transition to low carbon energy will be approved, which will allow the government to enforce a financial model to make the investment realistic. However, at this point it is still uncertain whether the tender will be announced before the parliamentary elections scheduled for October this year. Postponing the tender until after the elections could affect the chances of the Russian state-owned company Rosatom, as its involvement is opposed by most opposition parties.

  • Russia teaches the EU a lesson in big stick diplomacy. Chief EU diplomat Josep Borrell visited Russia in early February, in what turned to be quite an extraordinary moment in EU-Russia relations. The trip came on the heels of the sentencing of Russian opposition leader and activist Alexei Navalny, based on fabricated accusations, as well as the heavy-handed response of Russian security services to nationwide protests. This long-delayed visit was preceded by heated discussions between EU members over whether to proceed with it in the first place. Considering the downward spiral of Brussels’ relations with Moscow and the unprecedentedly worrying domestic situation in the country, opposition was widespread. Despite this opposition, Borrell decided to go and prepared an agenda that included meetings with the Russian civil society, human rights defenders, independent media and academia. However, Borrell came under fire for his unpersuasive performance during a press conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. During the presser, Borrell was visibly distracted by some questions from the Russian state media outlet Sputnik. Further, the aggressive behavior of the Russian Foreign Minister, who repeatedly attacked both the EU and its members as well as the United States, clearly shook the EU representative. It was during the presser that Russia announced the decision to expel three European diplomats from Poland, Germany and Sweden who previously supported Alexei Navalny. This effort was likely planned to humiliate Borrell during his Russian visit. Coupled with the aggressive disinformation campaign led by the Russian officials during the trip, the visit created a sense of embarrassment and missed opportunity on the European side. It remains to be seen whether this will bring EU sanctions back to the table as Borrell himself (who is in the meantime facing calls for resignation) indicated in his post-trip blog.

  • The game of vaccines enters another round. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš found the time in his busy schedule to visit his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orbán in Budapest. There was one big issue on the agenda- Hungarian experience with the Chinese and Russian coronavirus vaccines. After the meeting, Babiš said that Czechia might consider going the “Hungarian way” and tap into vaccines from China and Russia. In the meantime, Hungary has already received the first shipment of 40 thousand doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine from the 2 million to be shipped over the upcoming three months. Inoculation with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine is set to begin later this month. As the EU-wide vaccination efforts are plagued by delays, making the von der Leyen Commission a target of criticism, it is no wonder that some countries are assessing alternative options. While other Czech government officials have pledged to only use vaccines approved by the European regulator EMA, neither Russian nor Chinese vaccines have undergone the neccesary procedures. Then, there is a question of where the vaccines could be produced within the EU. On this issue, Slovak Prime Minister Matovič already commented that the Sputnik V vaccine could be produced locally in Slovakia. While public health trumps geopolitics, it is clear that both Russia and China will be more than happy to use potential wide rollout of homegrown vaccines in Europe to boost their own agenda, as evidenced by the already widespread disinformation campaign to discredit “Western” vaccines.  In the meantime, Babiš set out to repeat his "vaccination mission", flying to Belgrade today, where the aforementioend trends are in full motion.

  • MapInfluenCE Russia research coordinator Pavel Havlíček proposed the agenda for Borell’s visit to Russia for the EUobserver. Unfortunately, Borrell did not exactly heed Pavel‘s recommendations (read here).

  • MapInfluenCE leader Ivana Karásková was one of the panelists at the debate discussing the Chinese global media outreach, organized by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and MERICS, where Ivana holds the position of European China Policy Fellow (watch here).

  • Pavel Havlíček commented for Czech portal why the Nord Stream 2 project is a key challenge for the credibility of German leadership in Europe and the viability of effective EU policy on Russia (read here).

  • MapInfluenCE analyst Matej Šimalčík analysed the China angle of the new Slovak Security strategy for our sister project CHOICE, arguing that the document signifies a dramatic redefinition of the Slovak approach to China (read here).

  • Matej Šimalčík was interviewed for the Slovak daily Denník N on the issue of the amendment of Slovak law on critical infrastructure. Matej believes this move is critical to ensure that investors backed by foreign regimes do not endanger key national security interests. The legislation was motivated by fears that Russia’s Sberbank, one of the biggest creditors of the Slovenské Elektrárne electric utility, may take control over the company (read here).

  • Polish President Andrzej Duda signed into law an agreement on legal cooperation on criminal matters with Taiwan. The agreement covers extradition, a potentially problematic issue as China often pressures states to extradite Taiwanese citizens to face trial in China (read here)

  • Poland plans a massive investment of roughly €900 million into the expansion of the Małaszewicze Logistical part on the main bottleneck on the increasingly busy China-Europe railway connection. The investment is to be supported by EU funds (read here). 

NATO2030 Series Discussion 2: Building a Transatlantic Approach towards China

February 16, 4 PM

Filip Šebok will be one of the speakers at a debate organized by the Atlantic Forum, discussing the challenges of Transatlantic cooperation on China policy. A very timely topic indeed, as it seems clearer by the day that a common approach towards China will not simply come about with a change in the White House. (More information here).

Best regards

Filip Šebok
Project Manager of MapInfluenCE

Newsletter editor: Filip Šebok

Contributions from: Pavel Havlíček

@MapInfluenCE and #MapInfluenCE








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