Welcome to the 33rd issue of the #CEEasia Briefing.
In this issue we dissect the following topics:
- China’s support for Russia’s ‘core interests’
- China’s increasing presence in Republika Srpska
- European air force in the Indo-Pacific
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1. China’s support for Russia’s ‘core interests’
What’s going on? Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in person for the first time since the start of the Ukraine war. The two leaders gathered on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan’s Silk Road oasis of Samarkand. Moscow admitted that Beijing might have “questions and concerns” regarding the Ukraine war, whilst simultaneously praising the Chinese leader for what a “balanced” position on the war. Putin further upheld Beijing’s position over the Taiwan question and condemned the US for igniting cross-strait tensions.
Going deeper… Sino-Russian mutual “support on core interests” has various aspects. Politically, Beijing offers a diplomatic lifeline to Moscow through abstention from condemning Russia’s invasion. Chinese energy companies have also become a top buyer of Russian energy sources, and Beijing has maintained its military ties with Russia, engaging in large-scale war games in the Far East earlier this month. The summit had also a symbolic significance, countering the West-led institutions by offering an “alternative” worldview.
This means… Albeit getting the most media attention, Xi-Putin tete-a-tete was not the only and most decisive meeting on the summit. The Chinese leader has actually kicked off his first overseas visit since the start of the pandemic in Kazakhstan’s capital Nur-Sultan, demonstrating Beijing’s long-term foreign policy strategy. Over the years, China has invested massively in Central Asia and is now looking to further cultivate those ties, having signed several trade and investment pacts with countries in the region. Beijing was thus performing a challenging balancing act while attending the SCO summit, as Central Asian countries also became uneasy with Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
On top of that… Despite the meeting in Samarkand, China has not signaled any deviation from its stance on the Ukraine war. Beijing maintains its pragmatic approach and has shown that despite the “no-limit friendship” with Russia, China has its red lines. It has so far complied with sanctions against Russia, with some Chinese companies even cutting ties with Moscow to avoid violating the measures and damaging its access to Western markets. Although relations between Beijing and Moscow have been asymmetrical for some time, the war has shifted this weight in China’s favor even more.
2. China’s increasing presence in Republika Srpska
What’s going on? China State Construction Engineering Corporation signed a $330 million deal with Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Republika Srpska to build a 33km section of highway that will connect the autonomous entity with neighboring Serbia. The Chinese company was chosen after the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) decided against supporting the project.
Going deeper… Chinese presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina is most pronounced in the Serb-majority Republika Srpska (also known as the Serb Republic), and, similarly to Serbia, it is facilitated by political elites, particularly members of the ruling Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). Indeed, the SNSD leader and the Serb member of the three-member Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina Milorad Dodik is known for using China (alongside Russia) as a bargaining chip against the EU, having done so most recently during his statement following the EBRD’s decision not to support the highway project. China has also supported Republika Srpska internationally, most prominently during its 2015 abstention from a UN Security Council resolution condemning the Srebrenica massacre. In tandem with Dodik and his secessionist tendencies, Beijing also does not recognize the legitimacy of the incumbent High Representative to Bosnia and Herzegovina Christian Schmidt.
Nevertheless… The level of Chinese influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina is nowhere near the level in Serbia, which is due to further upgrade its close relations with China by signing a free trade agreement by the end of 2022. Moreover, as noted by the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), the Chinese government has not yet exploited its influence in Bosnia and Herzegovina for a strategic goal. This means there is still a space for EU’s presence which is becoming increasingly critical amidst the increasing worries of Chinese and Russian malign influence operations in the region.
3. European air force in the Indo-Pacific
What’s going on? As tensions in the South China Sea continue, France and Germany are stepping up their presence in the Indo-Pacific region. Last month, the two European nations sent their fighter jets to the Pacific to demonstrate their ability to quickly deploy air power across the globe. Germany dispatched six of its Eurofighter jets to fly to Singapore in just 24 hours and France deployed three Dassault Rafale fighters on a mission to reach New Caledonia within just 72 hours.
Going deeper… Both air forces then continued South to take part in the biannual three-week Pitch Black military exercise organized by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in Australia’s Northern Territory. This year was the first time aircraft from Germany, Japan and the Republic of Korea participated. At the end of September, three of German Eurofighter jets will also fly to Japan for a joint military training with Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force. It’s the first time that the training is taking place in the Japanese air space.
This means… Last September, the EU adopted its first Indo-Pacific Strategy. The main aim is obvious: to promote maritime security around the Strait of Malacca, one of the strategically most important naval points in the world. Germany says it wants to be more present in the Indo-Pacific to pursue “multilateralism” in its foreign policy and France aims to be ready to protect its overseas territories in the region where it has more than 2 million citizens. France even signed a mutual logistics agreement with Singapore in June. Some experts say that if the situation in the South China Sea or Taiwan worsens, France could deploy its troops to the South Pacific.
Moreover… Since 2021, some European countries such as France, Germany and the Netherlands have sent their military vessels to Singapore. And although the Strategy is said not to be aimed against any particular nation, when German frigate Bayern took part in joint exercises with Japan and the US last winter, it was denied access to a Chinese port. However, Chinese government-sponsored media don’t seem to see European military deployment in the region as much of a threat, especially when it comes to Germany. Instead, they are accusing the US and Japan of pushing European countries to show their alliance by countering China in the Pacific.
NikkeiAsia: Europe sends air power to Indo-Pacific after flexing naval muscle
Quick takes on CEEasia developments
- CHINA | Jiang Yu became China’s new Special Representative for Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries. The platform, and its Secretariat, were launched to facilitate cross-regional cooperation following the first China-CEEC summit in 2012.
- TAIWAN | European Parliament passed a resolution denouncing China’s live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait, which followed the August visit of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to the island nation. Whilst reaffirming the Parliament’s support for the status quo in the Strait, the resolution welcomed Lithuania’s decision to open a trade office in Taipei, and once again, called for the European Commission to launch its scoping exercise for a potential EU-Taiwan Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA).
- JAPAN | Marking the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Slovenia and Japan, Chairman of Japan-Slovenia Parliamentary Friendship Association Ichiro Aisawa met the Chargé d’ Affaires at the Slovenian embassy in Japan Tina Vodnik. Particular attention was paid to NEDO, a joint Slovenian-Japanese smart grid project which won the 2020 International Smart Grid Action Network award.
- PAKISTAN | Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Péter Szijjártó met Pakistani Chief of the Army Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa in Budapest. At the forefront of discussions were the war in Ukraine and provision of assistance to ease the impacts of recent floods that hit Pakistan.
- INDIA | Group of businessmen associated with Slovak agro tycoon Jan Sabol will commence their first overseas biofuel plant in Indian state Uttar Pradesh, using rice waste as a production input. The greenfield investment of EUR 40 million is planned as a joint venture with Indian agro business conglomerate Adventz Group, and it aims to help India reach 20% biofuel share in all gasoline products by 2025.
- IRAN | Minister of Foreign Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian signed a memorandum of obligations to join the China-and-Russia-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). SCO, which is regarded as a counterweight to Western influence in Central Asia, has recently admitted India and Pakistan. Iran expects its own accession to avert economic isolation imposed by the US sanctions.