Brussels, EU. China’s quiet but steadily rising penetration of Central Europe bears certain risks for the EU. Certainly, Beijing is using the region as a gateway to Western Europe’s markets while including the EU in its “Eurasian” integration project. But a deepening trade triangle of China, Germany, and the Central European countries could put other EU countries at an economic disadvantage. Germany must address this risk, carefully balancing national interest and European unity.
In November 2016, China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang attended the Fifth China-Central Eastern Europe Summit. In his remarks, he proposed the intensification of “pragmatic cooperation” between China and the countries of Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and South Eastern Europe (here CEE) to expand two-way trade, transport connectivity, industrialization, and financial cooperation.
To many European observers, however, China’s engagement in CEE remain cloudy at best, since China’s trade and investment activities in CEE have raised questions about China’s goals and strategy toward the EU at large. Today, increasingly tense relations between China and individual EU member states particularly Germany over China’s acquisitions of high-technology assets have given new momentum to the idea that China is pursuing a plan to engage the EU in new and exciting business ventures that are in competition with existing EU ventures.
In fact, rather than aiming to divide the EU, China’s strategy in CEE has from the beginning been to pursue greater engagement with the EU as a whole using CEE as a cooperation platform. This was stressed in the Riga Declaration that concluded the Fifth China-CEE Summit in November 2016: “All participating EU Member States reaffirm that the implementation of the actions envisaged by this document must be done without prejudice to the competencies of the European Union and with respect for the obligations stemming from their membership of the European Union.
Europe has many competitors worldwide, but China brings fresh capital and a flexibility other global partners do not posess. If EU members can get past old views of China and look to a common prosperity as third world states in Africa and Ukraine are today, tomorrow can be brighter for East and West.