China: The 28th member state
8 November 2012
The EU has a “secret member”: China. If Die Welt is to be believed, the EU’s “most important trading partner after the United States” is increasingly intent on developing bilateral relations with Europe’s member states, much to the dismay of Brussels.
In early September, China’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs invited 16 countries from Central and Eastern Europe to Beijing for a “European Conference” to celebrate the creation of a new association of Central and Eastern European states, dubbed “CEE” by the newspaper. The association, which is now staffed by a secretariat, includes 16 countries, ten of which are members of the EU. Although the ambassadors from a swathe of territory which extends from Albania to Poland were to be present at the event, no one thought to invite an official from the EU —
Brussels’ representatives responded with alarm: the new initiative appeared to highlight the principle of divide and rule in Chinese policy with regard to the EU.
While Brussels refuses to budge on questions that China considers to be important like the recognition of the country as a market economy and an end to the embargo on arms sales, Beijing will continue to subtly develop dependent relationships with certain European states, explains political scientist Jonas Parello-Plesner in the Berlin daily. For example with Greece, where China has taken over part of the port of Piraeus, and with Hungary which recently received a “special loan” from China for one billion euros.
Although Chinese diplomats affirm that one of the aims of this economic cooperation is “to reinforce relations with the EU”, Die Welt notes that Brussels remains sceptical —
Its representatives are wondering if Beijing is intent on using its economic leverage to transform the countries of the CEE into a lobby.