Juris Paiders (Latvia)
The "17 + 1" format, created by China in 2012, in which it tried to gain influence in 17 countries of Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Balkans, suffered - on Tuesday, six countries, including Latvia, did not respond to an invitation to participate in the online summit summit with Xi Jinping.
China's “divide and rule” policy, that is, the strategy of dividing the EU's joint policy, offering Eastern Europe one thing and Western Europe something completely different, is met with clear resistance. First, from the Baltic states, which have not yet benefited from closer ties with China and which are now watching with dismay the attempts of China and Russia to get closer. Now Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia have joined Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in sending their ministers, not presidents or prime ministers, to attend the summit, despite pressure from China.
The 17 + 1 format has long allowed China to reach out to individual Eastern European states with investment promises under the Belt and Road Initiative. However, only a few countries can say they have benefited economically from this. While others, such as Montenegro, have accumulated hundreds of millions of euros in controversial debts.
China's Eastern European policy is to buy cheap sympathies by offering its vaccines, simplifying customs procedures and doubling food imports from Eastern Europe over the next five years. Strategically, this is a smart move, given that farmers in Eastern Europe feel cheated compared to their Western counterparts, who receive higher subsidies.
However, the countries of Eastern Europe are beginning to realize that promises and meager gains are not enough to compensate for the losses that could arise from cooperation with China. However, the Balkan countries have also criticized the bilateral approach of some EU superpowers, especially Germany and France, which are establishing their own bilateral relations with the Asian giant.
Despite the apparent relaxed attitude of its Eastern European partners, China wants to show everyone that the summit is another success and that it can still maintain close ties with the region.
This is evidenced by paid articles and interviews in various media (not only in Latvia, but also in other European countries), which describe the "amazing" successes and decisions made at the summit. At the summit, the Chinese leader proudly boasted of his country's investments in Eastern and Central Europe in recent years, which totaled more than $ 16.8 billion. It was also noted that the China-Europe freight train route covers most of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe and has completed over 30,000 flights. He did not mention that in many cases these trips were one-off pompous “checks” aimed at the local and international community. Xi also pledged that China intends to import more than $ 170 billion worth of goods from Central and Eastern Europe in the next five years, and that this will be achieved by doubling agricultural exports from these regions to China and increasing agricultural trade by 50%.
It seems that soon the “big eastern brother with Winnie the Pooh at the helm” will achieve what the EU has failed - the economic growth of producers from Eastern and Central Europe. However, Xi’s promises may remain unfulfilled, as it is very likely that in five years he will talk to leaders of very different countries at the 17 + 1 summit and brag about little achievements in cooperation. China's goal is to divide the EU, which is easier to achieve in times of crisis. EU member states must resist the temptation of Beijing's cheap promises.