EU snub: Brussels unity in tatters as China summit sees member states go their own way

China: Expert fires warning over ‘divide and conquer strategy’

Next week, Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to host the “17+1” summit in a bid to strengthen its ties with 17 Eastern European countries. The summit will focus on infrastructure investments and the Belt and Road Initiative.

At least 12 of these countries are inside the EU, with the bloc’s member accustomed to acting in unison in a bid to exert power and influence.

But several Baltic states have confirmed neither their president nor prime minister will be attending, in a direct snub to President Jinping.

A spokesperson at the Lithuanian permanent representation to the EU said: “For the moment we can confirm that at 17+1 meeting, Lithuania will not be represented neither at president, nor at prime minister level.”

Estonia’s Foreign Minister Eva-Maria Liimets will be attending the summit, according to a government spokesperson, but not their leader.

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The Latvian prime minister’s office said: “Due to the situation with Covid-19 pandemic, we are still in the process of finalising the details of our participation level.”

A spokesperson for Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who came to power last week, said they prefer to address China “via EU common policies”.

They said: “We prefer using much more the EU 27+1 format and to address China via EU common policies.”

Despite this, many EU states will still be attending the summit.

Other EU countries in the Baltic group include Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.

Non-EU countries such as Albania, Bosnia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are also included in the group.

This snub comes after US President Joe Biden promised to form democratic alliances with Baltic countries which will help counterbalance against Beijing.

China’s “17+1” summit was created in 2012 and is a key platform for China to connect with central, eastern and southern Europe.

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While China has not provided any details of the summit, the Chinese mission to the EU revealed it has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

They said: “Due the coronavirus pandemic, the [17+1] summit has been delayed from the original schedule last year.

“Preparatory work for the summit remains ongoing.

“At present, we are in constant communication with all sides regarding the summit’s arrangement.”

This week, an international relations expert warned China is eager to secure “backers” in central and eastern Europe amid concerns the Chinese regime is trying to divide Europe in two.

Jeremy Garlick said: “I think China won’t change cause on central and eastern Europe I think they will try to maintain the 17 plus 1.

“You know they have committed some effort and time to this and we have to remember also the political aspects of it.

“Which is that China sees the need for influence in central and eastern Europe and sees it as a block that it can perhaps influence more than western Europe.

“The talk about divide and conquer strategy, that China is trying to divide Europe into West and East.”

He added: “I don’t think China sees it that way.

“But I do think that China wants to ensure that it has influence here and to make sure, for example, in the United Nations that it has backers that it has countries on its side.

“Whether it can achieve that, whether it can be politically viable for China to gain support from central and Eastern European countries that’s another matter.

“But we don’t see signs of China changing course on its regional forums on other parts of the world and I think China will try to pursue the same course here as well.”

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