Welcome to the 11th issue of the #CEEasia Briefing.
In this issue, we dissect the following topics:
- Deteriorating views of China in V4
- Czech & Polish counter-intelligence warns against Chinese cyber espionage
- Hungary flirting with the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine
- RCEP’s implications for CEE
- The assassination of Zygfryd Wolniak in Pakistan – 50 years later
Deteriorating views of China in V4 (and rest of Europe)
What’s going on? Central Europeans perceive China predominantly negatively – its image in Europe has suffered not only following the COVID-19 pandemic but also due to human rights issues, or the effect China has on democracy in other countries, according to the report jointly published by CEIAS and The Sinophone Borderlands project at Palacký University in Olomouc.
The survey includes responses of nearly 20,000 Europeans from 13 countries and concludes that most of the countries perceive China rather negatively, with exception of Russia, Latvia, and especially Serbia. On the other hand, China’s image significantly worsened over the last three years in Sweden, the UK, France, Germany, and the Czech Republic where more than 50 % of the respondents hold negative feelings towards China. Interestingly, many Europeans, regardless of their view on China, believe that COVID-19 was spread by China intentionally or agree with the claims that it was artificially made in Chinese laboratories
Going deeper…. Of the four Visegrad countries, the Polish and Slovak populations have the least negative views of China, even less so than the Hungarian’s despite Orbán being Beijing’s most steadfast ally in the region. In the Czech Republic, more than half the population sees China negatively. In all four countries, public opinion of China worsened in the past three years. In all V4 countries, less than 20% of people report an improvement of perception.
This means… The results of the report demonstrate the limitations of China’s soft power and efforts to win sympathy, support, and trust abroad which many of the countries featuring in the survey have been witnessing. Speculations that this year’s pandemic would harm China’s image and possibly relations with European countries seem not to be entirely baseless.
CEIAS: European public opinion on China in the age of COVID-19
SCMP: China loses its lustre among Europeans but doors remain open: survey
Denník N: Čína nemá v Európe dobrý imidž, na Slovensku podľa prieskumu najpozitívnejšie vnímame Rusko
Czech & Polish counter-intelligence warns against Chinese cyber espionage
What’s going on? The annual report of the Security Information Service (BIS), Czechia’s intelligence agency, revealed an increase in espionage activities by Chinese groups in 2019. In addition to growing Chinese influence in Czech media and academia, the report included allegations of cyber espionage, as in the case of a Chinese network attack on the Czech security software company Avast. Similarly in Poland, Weijing Wang and Piotr Durbajlo, a former Huawei employee and a former officer of the Internal Security Agency (ABW) respectively, were formally indicted on espionage charges that were made against them in early 2019.
Going deeper… The BIS report is as yet another warning from Czech intelligence. The BIS has already pointed out the potential of cybersecurity threats as early as 2013, and the National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NÚKIB) issued a public warning against the use of Huawei and ZTE in the country’s telecommunications networks in 2018. The significance of the report lies in its timing amidst increasing public disillusionment with China in Czechia, where 2019 and 2020 saw a multitude of Chinese diplomatic mishaps. The indictment of a former Huawei employee in Poland also comes as global security concerns about the Chinese tech giant increase.
This means… With continued talk about the security of 5G networks at an EU level, Germany is the last of the ‘Big Three’ planning to impose tougher restrictions on 5G providers. In this context, the Polish indictment and Pence-Duda 5G security agreement come as a blow to Huawei and by extension China, especially considering that Poland hosts Huawei’s headquarters for both the CEE and Nordic regions. As we reported in CEEasia #10, similar agreements, albeit at a lower level, have been signed between the US and other CEE countries, including the Czech Republic where the new report may further fuel negative public sentiment towards China.
SME: Česká kontrarozviedka varuje pred aktivitou čínskych a ruských špiónov
Reuters: Pole and Chinese citizen indicted in Warsaw for spying
NYT: Poland Arrests 2, Including Huawei Employee, Accused of Spying for China
Hungary flirting with the Chinese COVID-19 vaccine
What’s Going on? Hungary could be one of the first EU countries to begin trials of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine as it has announced obtaining the COVID-19 vaccine for testing even though it cannot be marketed in the EU. Moreover, Hungary is also negotiating with Chinese companies about the vaccine and has announced that up to one million doses could arrive in the country within the next few months.
Going Deeper… According to the European Commission, Budapest’s plans to purchase and use the Russian and Chinese drugs raise further safety concerns, especially since none of the vaccines have gone through relevant quality and authorization requirements or assessment by the European Medicines Agency possibly undermining the trust of the population in immunization in the future. The State Secretary at the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade stated, however, that Hungary should not be prevented from importing effective vaccines when they are available.
Bigger picture… Hungary’s repeated clashes with the EU over judiciary overhauls in the country have been lately enhanced by its unwillingness to approve the EU budget including the stimulus package to help the bloc to recover from the pandemic. Considering its current activities and the country’s PM Viktor Orbán’s repeated statements about the EU limiting Hungary’s sovereignty, it seems there is no evident way out of the stalemate.
RCEP’s implications for CEE
What’s going on? On 15 November 2020, an agreement was signed on the creation of the world’s largest free trade area between ASEAN, Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) unites both economic giants like China or Japan, and developing countries. It covers about 30% of the world’s population as well as the world’s GDP. However, despite the positive worldwide reactions, there is a general belief that the agreement will have much more impact in terms of geopolitics than economics.
Going Deeper… The agreement unified the ASEAN agreements with the countries of East Asia and Oceania. Its geographical scope and cumulative economic size are staggering, but the subject of the agreement is almost exclusively goods, and the removal of tariff barriers. To some extent, however marginal, the agreement also covers services or an extremely sensitive agricultural sector. The removal of non-tariff barriers is also absent. Compared to the free trade agreements the EU has signed with the countries of East Asia or ASEAN, RCEP lacks environmental standards or articles on workers’ rights.
This means… The RCEP is likely to bring economic growth to the countries of the agreement, while also benefiting the European businesses based in those countries. The opposite is the case for companies that are competitors of those in East and Southeast Asia as the single market brings yet another competitive advantage. The overall impact on the EU economy is estimated at 0.1% growth of GDP. The EU sees the strategic importance of the Indo-Pacific region and currently has four free trade agreements with the RCEP countries. Others are in the process of being negotiated, but some negotiations standstill. With up to five countries, including China, the EU is not negotiating a free trade agreement. Exaggerated concerns about Chinese influence within the RCEP are partially offset by the presence of Japan, South Korea, and Australia. On the other hand, the agreement emphasizes China’s dominant position in the region. CEEs have generally a negative trade balance with the RCEP countries. There is no reason to assume a more substantial impact of the agreement on these economies. On the other hand, it can benefit companies that are end customers of chains from East and South-East Asia. Likewise, the growing economic power of the countries of Southeast Asia will help exports from CEE to the region.
The assassination of Zygfryd Wolniak in Pakistan – 50 years later
What happened?… 50 years ago, on November 1, 1970, the Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Zygfryd Wolniak along with three Pakistani delegates were shot dead at Karachi International Airport in Pakistan. In this incident, Polish Ambassador to Pakistan Mr. Alojzy Bartoszek and the Polish Consul General in Karachi Mr. W. Duda were also injured. The assassinator named Mohammed Feroze drove a van of Pakistan International Airlines and ran it over the delegates. According to the relevant investigation, Mohammed Feroze’s ultimate target was to kill the Polish President Marian Spychalski.
Going Deeper… At the time of the incident in 1970, the cold war was taking place between the capitalist USA and the USSR, with Pakistan being a close ally of the USA. Besides, Islamic ideology in the politics of Pakistan was strong and political parties like the Jamaat-e-Islami employed highly incendiary rhetoric against the socialists and the communists. The attacker also believed that the ideology of socialism was against Islam hence his targeting of Polish officials.
Today… Since then Poland and Pakistan have further developed their political and economic cooperation with the overall trade turnover crossing €500 million thresholds in 2018. This includes cooperation in energy and exploration as Polish companies have been engaged in natural resources exploration in Pakistan for over 20 years. For example, this year Polish oil and gas company PGNiG has announced a new production well in the Rehman field in Sindh province. This follows 14 new exploration drills already announced by the company in 2017. PGNiG has been operating in Pakistan since 1997.