Dear reader,

 

In this newsletter: Czechia prepares to leave 16+1, Fudan Campus reenters the stage in Hungary, China sends another envoy to Europe and V4 countries grapple with the energy embargo on Russia.

Czechia may soon join Lithuania as another country exiting the China-CEE cooperation format (known also as 16+1). The Chamber of Deputies’ Foreign Affairs Committee passed a resolution on May 19, calling on the government to decrease its involvement in the platform and leave it altogether. This was based on the assessment that the platform has not brought any significant economic benefit to Czechia and other CEE countries and has mostly been used as China’s tool to pursue its own interests. Two year ago, a research publication of our sister project CHOICE presented the results of an audit of this platform and concluded that it served Chinese interests in the region. This assessment was supported also by the Czech Deputy Foreign Minister present at the committee meeting, showing that the view on 16+1 is shared by the Czech diplomacy.

 

The reassessment of Czech participation in the 16+1 format is part of the ongoing revision of ties with China, which was also enshrined in the new government’s program. It will now be up to the government to make the political decision to leave the format, as there is no official treaty-based membership. President Zeman, who has been a key supporter of ties with China, including under the 16+1 platform, might still have a role to play. This is especially the case as the new government has been avoiding direct conflict with the President so far.

 

In any case, Czechia now seems to be set to leave the format altogether, although the timeframe and the exact form of “Czexit” is not clear. The future of the 16+1, which is ironically celebrating a decade of its existence this year, is now uncertain, and it seems that China will be trying to decrease the profile and perhaps also the frequency of high-level meetings. This was indicated by the proposal to hold a ministerial level meeting instead of a prime minister/presidential level meeting this year, put forward by China’s special envoy Huo Yuzhen during her recent visit to Central and Eastern Europe.

  • China sends a special envoy to Brussels amidst the lukewarm ties between China and the EU. Beijing’s special representative for European Affairs, Wu Hongbo, is set to meet EU officials to follow up on the results of last month’s EU-China summit. The April “dialogue of the deaf,” dominated by the differences on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, underscored the numerous topics on which the EU and China struggle to find common ground. Wu Hongbo’s visit also follows recent 'damage control' mission to Central and Eastern European countries by Huo Yuzhen, China’s special envoy for the region, aimed at presenting China’s position on the war in Ukraine and discussing the future development of the 16+1 platform. The April EU-China summit was supposed to be followed by a biennial high-level dialogue on economic issues but so far, no official date has been announced for this meeting. China has also not announced a replacement for the former ambassador to the EU Zhang Ming who left his post in December. However, save for at least a tactical change in China’s approach, its diplomatic overtures are unlikely to succeed.

  • After the contentious elections, the issue of the planned campus of Chinese Fudan University in Budapest has reappeared. Last week, the Hungarian Constitutional Court repealed a previous decision approving a referendum on the Fudan campus. The Constitutional Court’s ruling declared a nationwide referendum on the issue unconstitutional, citing the fact that the campus plans are based on an international agreement between China and Hungary. In a reaction to the ruling, Budapest Mayor and a leading opposition figure Gergely Karácsony said that he would be looking for other options for the Budapest residents to express their opinion on the plans. The project of the Chinese university campus caused local discontent in Hungary due to the expected high costs to be borne by Hungarian taxpayers, fears that it would divert funds from the domestic education sector, and interfere with plans for a student campus in Budapest. However, while the Fidesz government notably avoided the controversial topic before the April elections, the plans seem to be back on track. The new Hungarian Culture Minister even said that if Hungary does not proceed with the plans, it would essentially be like “cutting one of our arms.”

  • Hungary maintains opposition to proposed EU embargo on energy imports from Russia. Hungary demands short-term energy investment amounting to approximately €750 million in order to upgrade refineries and expand pipeline connection with Croatia before supporting the newest sanction package that includes a ban on Russian oil imports. Furthermore, Hungarian government claims that the long-term reorientation of the energy infrastructure may come at a cost of about €18 billion. To ease the burden currently faced not only by Hungary but also the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the European Commision has offered support of €2 billion and a longer transition period. Whereas the Czech Republic and Slovakia are open to supporting the embargo under certain conditions, Orbán likened this set of measures to an atomic bomb. Meanwhile, Poland has been among the loudest voices supporting further sanctions targeting the Russian energy sector despite its own significant reliance on Russia. For instance, based on data gathered before Russia halted its gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland in late April due to their refusal to pay in roubles, Poland imported 46 percent of its gas and 64 percent of its oil from Russia. Poland now expects to substitute the energy imports from Russian sources with various alternatives, including deliveries of gas through the Baltic Pipe from Norway, scheduled to start operation in October, as well as LNG purchases from the US. 

  • “[The Global Security Initiative] sends an important signal to developing countries as it puts emphasis on the shared stage of development or historical experience with colonialism, and stressing principles of sovereignty and non-interference,” explains MapInfluenCE’s Leader Ivana Karásková for Deutsche Welle (read here).

  • “Beijing’s decision to join Russia in blaming NATO’s expansion for the invasion of Ukraine is alienating many countries that fear they could be attacked next. This follows regional disillusionment that Beijing was using divide-and-conquer tactics, rather than win-win economic benefits, in its 17+1 leadership,” clarifies Ivana Karásková for South China Morning Post (read here). 

  • “Hesitation about EU enlargement is short-sighted and potentially very dangerous, as this year's events have shown. The bloc's enlargement must be conceived of and executed as a geopolitical expansion,” writes our analyst on Russia, Pavel Havlíček, in a co-authored article for Euractiv (read here). 

  • “There is a clear lack of adaptation of the content to local realities. The authors of the message use unsophisticated means and clumsy phrases,” summarizes Alicja Bachulska, our Polish analyst, the findings of her latest research for Polish Press Agency (read here). 

Our Slovak analyst on China Matej Šimalčík is going to discuss the confluence of Chinese and Russian information operations and how China helps to amplify Russian propaganda on invasion of Ukraine in a Thursday webinar. This event is organized by Jamestown Foundation and starts at 5 pm CET/11 am EDT.

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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