Chinese Foreign Minister Seeks European Support Over the Silk Road Initiative

Beijing’s government is seeking support from the Eastern European states while there are some concerns with the new EU leadership being more hostile with China.

To clarify and ease the situation the Foreign Ministry of China, Mr. Wang plans to visit three states in a week, possibly to receive more support on the Belt and Road initiative. Analysts said the visit to Slovakia, Poland and Hungary is planned to aim at more collaboration in the commercial way.

In the past the plan became more difficult due to the tense relations with Germany, while recently the new top leaders are changing, making it a tricky time for Beijing.

Zhao Junjie, a China-EU relations analyst from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a think tank affiliated with China’s State Council, said Wang’s trip could help strengthen China’s connection within Europe, as Eastern European nations sometimes feel neglected by major European countries such as Germany.

Furthermore, the newly nominated European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has warned of China’s negative impact on the European Union, which is the country’s largest trading partner. As Poland and Hungary are two key partners to the relations in Eastern Europe a bilateral agreement plan is set to take place in the area.

Long Jing, a European affairs specialist from the Shanghai Institute of International Studies, said Wang’s tour could help China expand world markets and fight against protectionism. The task is to show the counterparts that the Chinese are keen to collaborate and support a friendly and cooperative strategy.

China and Europe have long been steady trading partners, but in recent years the EU has become increasingly concerned about China’s growing footprint.

In just eight years, Chinese foreign direct investment in the EU has risen from less than US$840 million in 2008 to a record high of US$42 billion in 2016, according to Rhodium Group statistics.

On top of that China, back in 2011 signed an agreement with the states of Central and Eastern Europe, which Greece later joined and 16+1 states signed.

Poland and Hungary responses

Poland, one of the pillars of the 16+1 Initiative and a former enthusiast of closer relations with the PRC, has dramatically changed its attitude after the non-enthusiastic results. The 16+1 has not delivered economically for the majority of its participants, and its “one size fits all” model has failed to consider the specific situations of individual countries. Minor adjustments declared in the course of 16+1 summits in Budapest and Sofia are a good start but remain insufficient to satisfy the needs of China’s partners so the road for a new agreement is difficult.

Beijing’s close cooperation with Russia, and its courting of Berlin, also do not make the PRC a particularly attractive partner for Poland. Polish authorities have decided to put more focus on their bilateral ties with the United States—and with regional projects such as the Three Seas Initiative—rather than deepening cooperation with China which isn’t the priority at the moment.

However, in Budapest the Chinese Ambassador Duan Jielong says “China and Hungary have enjoyed frequent exchanges and fruitful achievements in the development of bilateral relations in such fields as politics, economy, trade, finance and humanities.” A first batch of electric buses has been produced at Chinese automaker BYD’s factory in the northern Hungarian city of Komarom, which vividly illustrated that the Belt and Road Initiative and the “16+1” cooperation mechanism have pushed China-Hungary relations to a new level, Duan said in a recent interview with Xinhua.

Hungary is the first European countries that has established and started the Belt and Road working group mechanism with China, which signified a successful joining of the China-proposed initiative with Hungary’s “opening to the East” policy, according to Duan. Therefore, the prospect of a deal looks to be much easier than the Polish ones.