China is losing friends in Central and Eastern Europe as a growing number of countries in the region continue to stay away from Beijing after China refused to denounce the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
According to Nikkei Asia, the Central and Eastern European countries fell in love with China in the early 2010s because the economic powerhouse had a lot of money to invest overseas.
In 2012, China formed an economic cooperation initiative with 16 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Most regional countries joined the group, including Poland, Hungary, and Romania. Greece then became another member in 2019.
Almost every year since then, China has organized summits among group members, hoping to win over these countries through infrastructure investment and technological cooperation.
Worried about a possible division within the EU, Germany and France have urged Central and Eastern European countries not to get too deeply involved in China’s framework.
Then the region’s goodwill toward China started to quickly disappear.
Their love affair with the communist regime has begun to turn into a bitter disappointment, with the first sign of change occurring last year.
In May 2021, Lithuania left the “17 plus one” group to distance itself from China.
Latvia and Estonia followed suit in August 2022, reducing the number of European members to 14.
In the Czech Republic, the foreign affairs committee of the country’s Parliament approved a resolution in mid-May, calling on the government to withdraw from the forum.
China faces a strong backlash from these countries after the regime refused to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian invasion started on February 24, prompting Central and Eastern European countries to be wary of the threat from Moscow’s expansionist policy. They are still haunted by memories of the yoke of the Soviet Union during the Cold War era.
Many in those nations are infuriated at China’s continued friendly ties with Russia.
Jakub Jakobowski is a senior fellow at Poland’s Center for Eastern Studies. He said that many Central and Eastern European countries have a growing resentment and distrust of China because Beijing maintains close relations with Russia.
He added, “Through a painful experience during the Soviet era, most of the countries in this region have a strong allergy to the Communist Party system and have bad feelings about China’s political system. The trend of the region distancing itself from China will not stop.”
In April and May, the Chinese regime sent a special envoy to eight major countries in the region to explain its position on the Ukraine crisis. But the envoy appears to have received a cold reception in most countries.
In Poland, the Polish foreign minister refused to meet the Chinese diplomat when the envoy visited Warsaw.
In Romania, the government has imposed rigid restrictions on infrastructure investment by Chinese companies.
The growing anti-regime feeling in the Central and Eastern European region is expected to have a significant impact on the global strategic landscape.