View of Warsaw – The Diplomat
Diplomat author Mercy Kuo regularly engages subject matter experts, policy practitioners, and strategic thinkers from around the world for their diverse ideas on U.S. policy in Asia. This conversation with Dr Justyna Szczudlik – deputy director of research, director of the Asia-Pacific program and Chinese analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM) – is the 290th in the series “The Trans-Pacific View Insight”.
As Sino-US relations intensify, analyze how Warsaw balances relations between Beijing and Washington.
For Poland, ties with the United States are crucial because of its security guarantees against Russia. The United States is Poland’s most important ally. And this alliance is even more important since Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Recent problems in relations between Poland and the United States – such as the Nord Stream2 dossier (the American-German agreement which facilitates the completion and commissioning of the gas pipeline), or the less “intimate” ties between two countries since Biden’s tenure – cannot question the firmness and importance of this relationship.
At the same time, Poland remains in the mainstream of the EU when it comes to its Chinese policy. This means that Poland intends to maintain open channels with China, hoping to reap economic benefits from trade by expanding exports to China and connectivity (income from freight trains between China and Europe passing through by Poland), despite the fact that in recent years Warsaw has pursued a rather cautious approach towards Beijing.
The best example of Poland’s prudence vis-à-vis China, but also of its willingness to maintain contacts with Beijing, is, on the one hand, the American-Polish declaration on 5G; but on the other hand, the assurance that Poland will not exclude Chinese companies from the development of the country’s 5G network. However, the upcoming national cybersecurity system law, likely indirectly, will introduce a ban – not naming China, but setting conditions that cannot be met by Chinese companies.
What is the long-term impact on Europe of Lithuania’s engagement with Taiwan and the possibility for Taipei to establish a representative office in the country?
Indeed, there is a noticeable process of warming ties between Vilnius and Taipei, but Lithuania is doing so as part of a one-China policy. There were discussions during the 2020 election campaign about the one-China policy (for example, the Freedom Party offered to support the independence and recognition of Taiwan as a country), but the campaign has its own rules. [These statements] do not amount to decisions taken by the ruling coalition of which the Freedom Party is a part.
The fact that Lithuania allows Taiwan to open a representative office in the country is nothing new and surprising as there are such offices in other countries. The novelty is the current context of an assertive China with Beijing’s overly sensitive approach to its “core interests”, Lithuania’s withdrawal from the 17 + 1 platform, and the name of the office – no the traditional “Taipei”, but “Taiwanese” – which has drawn the wrath of China.
Lithuania’s friendly approach to Taiwan could have an impact on EU institutions and other member states. They can pay more attention to Taiwan – a noticeable trend in the EU in recent months due to China’s assertiveness and Taiwan’s activities – and therefore support the image of the EU. as being more oriented towards a perception of China as a “systemic rival”, while avoiding the “partner” clause. The EU describes China: 1) as a partner when it comes to global issues such as climate change, WTO reform, cooperation on Iran, etc. 2) an economic competitor in search of technological leadership, and 3) a systemic rival promoting an alternative model of governance.
Suffice to say that the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, has announced that he will address the issue of Taiwan ̶ with the aim of deepening ties with the island and defending the Lithuania against China’s threats during the EU-China strategic dialogue with [Chinese Foreign Minister] Wang Yi. We can expect increasing pressure from China on the EU. At the same time, the EU’s pro-Taiwan approach could strengthen US-EU ties. In addition, it seems that the Lithuanian approach may help the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (CEECs) to no longer be perceived by the Western members of the EU and the United States as an economically and politically dependent region. China because of its previous enthusiasm to reinvigorate ties with the PRC. and the Chinese investment proposal in the region.
Compare and contrast the simultaneous rise of authoritarianism in China and Central Europe and the implications for China-Central European relations.
In my opinion, there is a methodological flaw in comparing and contrasting the democracies of Eastern and Eastern Europe – members of the European Union, the largest standards-based integration organization and liberal values - with the authoritarianism of China, which from the outset constitutes the political regime of the PRC. I admit that there are several problems with certain democratic norms and procedures in some Central and Eastern European countries, but this situation cannot be compared to that of the PRC. To put it bluntly, there is no ideological affinity between Eastern Europe and China. Even non-EU Central and Eastern European countries mainly use cooperation with China as leverage to create a better position in talks with the EU, stressing, for example, that China does not demand any changes. policy in the countries while offering its cooperation.
When it comes to China-CEEC relations, the region is becoming cautious of China not only due to widespread disillusionment with the 17 + 1 formula, mainly in the economic field, but also growing disenchantment with China’s heightened authoritarianism and coercive diplomacy.
How does the Chinese challenge divide Western and Eastern Europe through platforms such as “17 + 1” and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)?
It is a paradox that these two initiatives are very conflicting, although the results of both are negligible or almost non-existent. What I mean is the perception in Western Europe and the US that the EEC is (over) dependent on China due to its promised infrastructure investments etc. This is not true.
Although trade is steadily growing, only around 3 percent of China’s total exports go to CEE, and the PRC accounts for less than 2 percent of CEE regional exports. As for Chinese investments in CEEC members of the EU, the value is around 9.5 billion euros combined; well less than 1% of Chinese overseas investment stock is hosted by the CEECs. In addition, politically, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are becoming cautious, even critical of China, while the attitudes of Central and Eastern European societies towards China are shifting from positive or neutral to negative.
But in recent months, it seems that Western Europe and the United States are realizing the reality and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe are not seen as China’s Trojan horses. An important role in changing this perception was played by the recent 17 + 1 (online) summit, held in February, which ended in a dismal failure for China as six CEE countries were represented by lower-level officials and that the ECO blocked adoption of the “Guidelines” – a common standard document issued after the meeting. It was a setback for Xi Jinping, who was chairing the summit for the first time. Then Lithuania withdrew from the format.
Assess the strategic implications of the Biden administration’s intransigent approach to China on transatlantic relations and in particular on US-Polish relations.
Since Biden took office, one can notice an increasing convergence on issues relating to China between the United States and Europe. Biden, although he is tough on the PRC, sees areas of potential cooperation with Beijing such as the climate. In this sense, there are similarities between the US and the EU on China.
However, we should not expect full convergence or a united front against China. The US and the EU share the diagnosis, in the sense that they perceive China as a challenge or even a threat, but the means to cope. [the problem] are different. The American approach – rooted in the political consideration of being a world leader who does not want to lose its supremacy – is proactive and offensive, with the ultimate goal of countering and alienating China via building blocks against the PRC. . While the EU mindset – underpinned by economics as a critical factor in EU policy in China – prefers a defensive approach to focus on EU resilience via instruments neutral techniques (without naming China) to mitigate certain behaviors detrimental to the EU.
These differences create tensions in transatlantic relations as the US tries to pressure the EU to take a US maximalist approach to China and does not fully understand the EU’s maneuver position on Beijing. . The anxiety of the United States is reflected in attempts to build various coalitions on China with partners who wish to do so and express no doubts – the recent example is AUKUS. Meanwhile, the EU is looking for its own way to deal with China in order to protect its economic interests, but also [out of a desire] not to be seen as a blind executor of American policy. Such tensions are to be expected in the future.
However, there are attempts to focus on selected issues that both sides see as detrimental to their security, such as technological and digital issues due to increasing interdependencies with China. The Trade and Technology Council which was established in June at the EU-US summit and its first working meeting on September 29 in Pittsburgh was a good test of whether transatlantic cooperation with China is feasible.
When it comes to US-Polish relations, the situation on a microscopic scale embodies EU-US relations. Washington expects Poland to take a tougher approach on China, while Poland aligns with the EU’s stance on China.