EU Leaders On a De-risking Trip To Beijing As CEE Exposure To China Flashes Red 

Democratic Security Outlook 2023: 4 December - 10 December

4 December 2023

EU leaders travel to Beijing for the 6-7 December summit with President Xi Jinping amid signs the bloc’s eastern flank, stretching from Finland to the Black Sea, is becoming a hybrid battleground with Russian and Chinese efforts to exploit the weak links in European security and economic architecture.

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EU/REGIONAL

  • EU leaders will hold a summit with President Xi Jinping in Beijing on 6-7 December. The agenda of the first high-level in-person meeting since 2019 includes rebalancing trade and market access as well as Russia’s war on Ukraine, with the EU likely to express concerns about China’s support for Moscow.
  • The meeting comes after a similar summit between Xi and President Joe Biden in San Francisco on 15 November, which also sought to ease tensions over economic rivalries Taiwan and Ukraine.
  • The West’s attempts to redefine its relationship with Beijing come as Chinese influence in CEE rises despite the disintegration of the 17+1 formula that was enthusiastically embraced by Poland’s Eurosceptic Law and Justice (PiS) in 2016, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and some non-EU nations in the Western Balkans.
  • China’s aggressive posture versus the West, its subjugation of Hong Kong, threats against Taiwan and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic split CEE’s approach to China, with Poland, Czechia and the Baltic nations taking a cautious line, while Hungary and Serbia continuing to cultivate political and business ties.
  • Just as the EU is seeking to curb what it sees as unfair competition from Chinese electric vehicle manufacturers, Chinese firms are striking deals with Hungary and Slovakia to build mega battery factories there. In Poland, Chinese firms are seeking to expand their footprint in the Baltic Sea port of Gdynia, which has become a hub for NATO equipment deliveries (more details below).
  • Improbable as it sounds, it now seems that the Chinese vessel suspected by Finland and Estonia of damaging the undersea gas and communication links between the two countries in October did that on purpose, dragging its 6-tonne anchor for over 100 miles on the Baltic Sea bottom, according to Finnish officials.
  • Finland, which joined NATO this year, was forced in recent weeks to close all border crossings with Russia after Moscow began shuttling hundreds of irregular migrants towards the country in the repeat of hybrid attacks on the Baltic states and Poland. Warsaw said it was sending troops to Finland to help the new NATO ally secure its long border, prompting an angry rebuke from Moscow.
  • The EU is speeding up discussions on its defence industry revamp and coordination, which critics say is long overdue in the face of Russia’s ramp-up of its arms production. Both Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen published their proposals on the issue, which suffers from notorious rivalries between national industries.
  • The president of COP 28 has drawn criticism for his comments that there was “no science” behind the phase-out of fossil fuels. UAE’s Sultan Al Jaber continued saying such a phase-out would take the world “back into the caves”.

Political tensions in Ukraine growing 

UKRAINE

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