08/12/2022, 13.47
CHINA – EUROPE
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After Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia also leave Beijing-led forum

by Emanuele Scimia

Created by China with the countries of Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, the group has gone from 17+1 to 14+1. China's military threats against Taiwan and its qualified support for Russia’s war in Ukraine have weighed heavily. The EU remains cautious about the crisis across the Taiwan Strait.

Rome (AsiaNews) – Estonia and Latvia yesterday announced simultaneously their intention of leaving the 16+1 informal forum that brings together China and 16 countries in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe.

According to Tallinn and Riga, participation in the Beijing-led cooperation group is “no longer in line” with their strategic goals in the current international environment. Lithuania left the group last year.

The 16+1 group has long been in the crosshairs of the European Union, which considers it a tool China uses to divide its members, pushing some member states to align themselves with China.

The decision by Estonia and Latvia comes as Western criticism mounts over China’s growing military pressure on Taiwan and its hitherto qualified support for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Estonian and Latvian leaders said that they would continue to work for “constructive and pragmatic relations with China”, respecting the rules-based international order and human rights.

Like Lithuania before them, Estonia and Latvia expressed dissatisfaction with the trade imbalance with China, a problem that has led other 16+1 member countries to revise their relations with Beijing, most notably Czechia, Slovenia and Slovakia.

In another blow to Beijing, the South China Morning Post reported that members of the European Parliament's Trade Committee plan to visit to Taiwan in December.

In the wake of the crisis triggered by the recent visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the US House of Representatives, Beijing has warned foreign politicians to avoid missions to the island.

The Taiwan issue has led to the break in relations between China and Lithuania. In November 2021, the Taiwanese government opened a mission in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius under the name "Taiwanese".

The move provoked Beijing's immediate response. Failure to use the name “Taipei” is a violation of the “one China policy,” according to the Chinese. For the Communist Party of China, the island is a "rebel" province that must be reunified with the mainland, by force if necessary.

Since then, China has virtually cut off trade relations with Lithuania, a coercive action decried by the European Union at the World Trade Organisation.

Despite the stand taken by the Baltic countries, the larger members of the European Union have remained very cautious vis-à-vis Beijing's massive exercises around Taiwan. Many doubt the EU would take any tough response in the event of China’s invasion of the island.

According to Marc Cheng, executive director of the European Union Centre in Taipei, China’s recent manoeuvres will not accelerate negotiations between Taiwan and the European Union on investments and microchips since the two issues need a stable scenario to be implemented.

The “PRC's drills might have pushed the EU to speed up playing a more active role in the global security arena and the Indo-Pacific region,” said Cheng speaking to AsiaNew, while this “might facilitate more discussion within member states and European Parliament to engage more with Taiwan.”

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