The Politics of Fear and Hope: The Representations of China as a Threat and an Opportunity and in Central and Eastern Europe

Dragan Pavlicevic

China has been traditionally perceived by the so-called West through bifocal lenses - as a Threat and as an Opportunity. As China "goes global" and its foreign policy becomes increasingly ambitious, these polarized perceptions have been increasingly coming to the fore of the discussion of what it all means for the world. Although it has only recently started to substantially engage with China, to a large extent thanks to the China-initiated "16+1" multilateral framework, Central and Eastern Europe is not an exception in that regard. In many quarters within the region, China has been perceived as a grave threat, as Beijing has been understood as seeking to undermine the EU-orientation of the CEE countries, the EU itself, and as promoting illiberal political and economic models and practices that will damage the well-being of the region. At the same time, there are voices, not least from the official circles, that present China as providing an opportunity to develop lagging-behind economies and improve the foreign policy outlook of the region, regain political autonomy vis-à-vis the EU, and overall usher in a different era in which the CEE countries will not only be peripheral, semi-autonomous and, in most cases, impoverished second-grade citizens of Europe.This article will describe these perceptions and examine whether the assumptions of the "China as a Threat" and "China as an Opportunity" paradigms can be empirically confirmed. The discussion will be based on an analysis of the interaction between China and the CEE region within the 16+1 framework, as well as an analysis of China's foreign policy objectives and practices related to the CEE region.

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