“China has lavished investment pledges on Balkan states as it prepares for a summit with 16 EU countries and aspiring members, stoking fears in Brussels and influential national capitals of an effort to divide the bloc” reports the Financial Times, citing data collected in collaboration with the CSIS Reconnecting Asia Project.
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Nowhere else in Europe has China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) been met with quite such a warm embrace as in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). China’s large-scale financing of highways, railways, ports, and other infrastructure to better connect China to Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe has clearly struck a chord with CEE leaders.
China’s approach to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) has changed dramatically in recent years. For the last three decades, the region was not high on China’s Europe agenda, which focused mainly on Western Europe. But in 2012, the 16+1 format was unveiled during Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s visit to Poland, signaling a new approach to the region. Since the announcement of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in 2013, infrastructure has become a primary focus for the 16+1. China has both economic and political aims for this unusual grouping of countries, and its investments are raising concerns about transparency and accountability. For now, however, the risks are relatively manageable given the modest scope of investment.
This week, 16 Central and Eastern European (CEE) heads of state gather with Chinese officials in Hungary for the sixth meeting of the “16+1” format. Created in 2012, the “16+1” has gathered extensive attention in the EU, as a Chinese diplomatic initiative neither directed towards Brussels nor (officially) toward single member states.