By: Yang Jianli

The Chinese media lauded this development, deeming it a ‘role model’ in a time when regional cooperation has taken a hit. It was in this background that the recent annual 17+1 summit between 17 CEE nations and China was conducted virtually on February 9, 2021 after a gap of one year. The 9th iteration of the summit, scheduled originally for the first half of 2020 in Beijing, had been cancelled last year due to the COVID -19 pandemic.

Quite unexpectedly, of the 17 participating CEE countries, leaders of only 11 showed up. For the rest, ministers of respective countries participated in the discussions on the summit hosted by Xi Jinping. This was in spite of the fact that there were specific instructions stating that the Prime Minister or the President of the participating countries must attend. It is not as if the attendance of lower representation in the summit has no precedence; in 2018, Poland had only sent a deputy prime minister and Lithuania only its minister of finance. However, since the current meeting was virtual, the presence of leaders was not a tall order for countries. Lower representation in such a case has thus been taken as a snub to China, indicating that contrary to their expectations, Chinese relationship with CEE is far from model.

In 2012, China and sixteen CEE countries came together to establish a ‘16+1’ cooperation format in Warsaw, now known as ‘17+1’ format after the addition of Greece in 2019, to expand cooperation between them. The format became an important avenue for CEE; the investment and infrastructural development China promised had potential to be an economic boon, and an effective leverage against an EU steeped in crisis (especially so for the CEE countries in European Union). This was also crucial for China, with their plans for the Belt and Road Initiative, greater access to the European market, and geopolitical ambitions for influence in the region against the EU and Russia. The cooperation had been under scrutiny from the beginning; it was believed that the format was essentially a Chinese Trojan Horse to fracture the EU. [Continue Reading…]