Home News Xi Jinping heads to friendly ports in Eastern Europe disenchanted with China

Xi Jinping heads to friendly ports in Eastern Europe disenchanted with China

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When Chinese leader Xi Jinping last visited Europe’s former communist east in 2016, the president of the Czech Republic hosted him for a three-day flag-flying state visit and said the country would become an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” for Chinese investment.

The ship later sank due to China’s support for Russia in the Ukraine war and extreme frustration with a project that never materialized. Also overturned are Eastern and Central Europe’s high expectations for China’s huge capital.

So when Xi Jinping returns to the region this week after visiting France, he will be traveling to Serbia and Hungary, two countries whose long-serving authoritarian leaders still offer China a safe haven in an increasingly volatile political and economic landscape.

“Czechs, Poles and almost everyone else are angry at China because of the war,” said Tamas Matura, a foreign relations scholar at Corvinus University in Budapest. “But in Hungary, it’s Not a problem, at least not for the government.”

China’s Kremlin-friendly stance on the Ukraine war is also not a problem for Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who, like Mr Orban, has maintained friendly relations with Russia and China while receiving billions dollars in Chinese investment.

In an interview with Chinese state television this week, Mr Vucic gave a foretaste of the sycophancy to come during Xi Jinping’s visit: “There are thousands of things we can and should learn from our Chinese friends,” the Serbian the president said.

“Taiwan is China — full stop,” he added.

Czech President Milos Zeman receiving Xi Jinping in 2016 He was replaced last year by former top NATO general Petr PaveMr Hupavel’s conversation with Taiwan’s president angered the Chinese government, which Beijing claims as part of its territory. said in the interview He believes that China is “not a friendly country.” Chinese investment in the Czech Republic has slowed to a trickle.

Meanwhile, Chinese money poured into Hungary and Serbia, cementing close ties based on shared U.S. vigilance.

China’s showcase infrastructure project in the region – a high-speed railway between Belgrade and Budapest – has been slow to progress due to regulatory and other issues. Of the roughly 200 miles of planned track, only about 60 are operational after five years of work — for a project that Beijing sees as a key component of its Belt and Road infrastructure plan, Xi Jinping’s favorite foreign policy initiative. Generally speaking, progress is slow.

But China’s promised investment in other projects has accelerated, Serbia totals nearly $20 billionHungary’s total amount is almost the same, including loans, but the terms of the loans are confidential, according to Hungary’s Minister of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure.

Ivana Karaskova, a Czech researcher at the Institute of International Affairs, an independent research organization in Prague, said Hungary and Serbia looked to China “not only for economic gain but also to show domestic voters that they pursue independent policies.” Karaskova said this showed the EU and the United States that “they are not the only ones in charge.”

She added that China “understands this dynamic” and that Xi Jinping will use it to try to reverse the stability Europe’s view of China worsens Both among ordinary citizens and in institutions such as the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm.

asLast year’s survey of Eastern and Central European countries Globsec, a Slovak research group, found “a sharp rise in negative views of Beijing,” particularly in the Baltic states and the Czech Republic. Even in Hungary, only 26% of respondents have a positive view of Xi Jinping, while 39% have a negative view. The rest said they were undecided.

But Matura said that whatever the public thought, Hungary under Orban had become a “safe political space” for Beijing, which could be counted on to try to soften EU China policy and protect it from influence. from the war in Ukraine.

The convergence of economic and geopolitical interests is particularly evident in Serbia, which aspires to join the EU but has hesitated to join the bloc in imposing sanctions on Russia and has thwarted EU efforts to mediate a settlement in Kosovo. Kosovo, a former Serbian territory, declared itself an independent state after a NATO bombing campaign, but Serbia, backed by Russia and China, has refused to accept that status.

Xi Jinping arrived in Serbia from France on Tuesday, the 25th anniversary of the 1999 bombing campaign in which NATO warplanes accidentally hit the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Three Chinese journalists were killed.

Alexander Mitic of the Institute of International Politics and Economics in Belgrade said many Chinese believed the incident was no accident and that it established a strong emotional bond between Serbs and Chinese.

Serbian communists unfurled banners reading “Welcome the President” and “Kosovo is Serbia – Taiwan is China” outside the Chinese Cultural Center in Belgrade on Monday as part of a series of government-sanctioned events in Belgrade ahead of Xi Jinping’s visit. The site of the bombed embassy. They demanded that the street outside the center be renamed “Street of Victims of NATO’s Aggression against China.”

Hungary is also angry at bullying by Washington and Brussels, despite being a member of NATO and the EU and receiving billions of euros in aid from the bloc.

However, Mr Orban’s main interest in China is money and he hopes to turn Hungary into a manufacturing hub for electric cars with the help of Chinese investors, Battery and other new technologies.

In the past two years alone, China has pledged to invest more than $10 billion in Hungary, much of it in companies related to electric vehicles — at a time when the EU is worried China’s growing dominance in the field An investigation is underway into whether Chinese electric car makers are being unfairly subsidized and should be punished with high tariffs.

The assembly lines will take years to build but will, in the long term, help protect Chinese electric carmakers from future EU tariffs that prevent China from dominating the market.

Tariffs on imported Chinese EVs do not apply to EVs assembled in Hungary, which can ship goods duty-free within the EU, but could affect parts imported from China to Hungarian factories.

Unlike most European countries, where governments change frequently – such democratic changes could disrupt China’s investment plans based on close ties to specific leaders – both Orban and Vucic have been in power for more than a decade without showing a performance show any signs of change. Go anywhere.

“The Chinese feel very comfortable in Hungary,” Matura said. “The public may not like China very much, but the government does.”

Analysts say that by visiting Hungary and Serbia, Xi Jinping hopes to show that while China’s influential role in Eastern and Central Europe may be declining, it is not over yet. They also said it showed he was not abandoning the 16+1, China’s diplomatic initiative established by China and former communist European countries around Xi Jinping’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative.

Three Baltic states formally withdrew from the group amid anger over the war in Ukraine. The organization was founded in 2012 and has been a cornerstone of China’s diplomacy in Europe during Xi Jinping’s administration. Others, such as the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania, are still technically members but have largely withdrawn.

“A big debate among experts in the region right now is whether 16+1 is dead or just a zombie,” Mr Mathura said.

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