Eastern Europe has been left home alone. While Brussels, Paris and Berlin bounce from one crisis summit to the next, tackling every issue imaginable, from Greek bank recapitalization to terrorism to the unbroken march of refugees into Europe, the leaders of Western Europe seem unconcerned with their immediate eastern neighbors.
Filling this void is a country that physically could not be further away, but has come to stand by their side: China.
While Europe is ready to burst under the pressure, Beijing is organizing this week a summit for 16 Eastern European states – and every country is participating. They could have said, “Not now. Let’s postpone the summit. All hell is breaking loose in Europe.” Beijing would have understood.
But they have decided to forge ahead, with a list of attendees that includes the Polish president, Andrzej Duda, and the Czech prime minister, Bohuslav Sobotka, who is already talking about “closing the lead Germany, France and Great Britain have in relations with China.”
What is more important is what he left out of that statement; namely, that Beijing is the key player that will help reduce this lead.
Because they are sidelined in European policy development and because, to them, Brussels is arrogant and overreaching, our neighbors are pivoting to China.
Because they are sidelined in European policy development and because, to them, Brussels is arrogant and overreaching, our neighbors are pivoting to China, their new friends. In the delegation are representatives of six Eastern European countries who are not in the European Union. It is already the fourth summit with the Chinese, but the first in China.
The Chinese prime minister, Li Keqiang, immediately found talking points with his counterparts because they are all annoyed about the same thing. Just like the 16 states, Beijing is being ignored, sent off or bullied and badgered by Brussels. It isn’t a matter of money, it’s a matter of regard and respect that these states are getting from the Chinese, who are actually quite busy as well.
Beijing’s politicians naturally are not helping Eastern Europe because they just decided to be more social. They have a plan: China and Europe are to be connected with each other by a new Silk Road, buoyed by numerous infrastructure projects.
This will help Beijing to reduce the overcapacity of Chinese construction firms, crank up trade, and bring in new political friends, who can now and then put in a good word in Brussels for China – if the need should arise.
In Romania alone, the Chinese are putting $1 billion toward a new coal-fired power plant. Two new nuclear plants are being built. In Serbia, the Chinese are modernizing a thermal power plant. There, the first bridge in Europe built by the Chinese has also been opened. Now the rail line from Belgrade to Budapest is being modernized. Ports are being upgraded on the Baltic Sea, on the Adriatic, and on the Black Sea.
Brussels is miffed, of course. Beijing is dividing Europe, it claims. “Competition is good for business,” was the terse reply from Beijing, “that’s certainly what you’ve always preached.”
And the times we live in leave little room for preaching. The recently deceased former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt said a few months before his death, “The survival of European civilization is at stake this century.”
Not if China has anything to do about it.
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