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China and Central and Eastern Europe in the 21st Century

Tamas Matura

A somewhat suspicious question Western diplomats has been asking at least since the Warsaw Summit in 2012: "Why is Central Europe so important for Beijing now, what is so special about these sixteen countries?" Even though the 16+1 cooperation has a short history so far, it has already generated political waves in the European Union. The return of China into the Central European region seems to be concerning to Brussels, Berlin and maybe even to Moscow. However, those who concentrate their research on this very specific topic tend to believe that third party observers highly exaggerate and overestimate the political or economic significance of this initiative. Having developed its global presence in Africa, Asia or Latin America decades ago, China now has to find new and maybe somewhat less obvious partners. The CEE region might provide business opportunities to Chinese companies, and amid deteriorating economic circumstances at home, Beijing has to utilize every possible chance to find business projects. The aim of this paper is to reveal the nature of the 16+1 cooperation, and to draw attention to some fundamental contradictions of the initiative. Some of these contradictions might be solved in the future, like the issue of different sizes and complexity, however, some other, like the 'trade and investment contradiction' might be not. Finally, the question of "politics or economy first" has also be touched. Some experts believe China has a hidden political agenda behind the curtains of economic cooperation. I would like to prove that Chinese political activity has not gone beyond the realms of everyday diplomacy, and economic opportunities are the real goals of Beijing in the CEE region.

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