(TibetanReview.net, Aug12’22) – China’s “17 plus one” forum for cooperation with central and east European countries is now reduced to “14 plus one” after Latvia and Estonia followed Lithuania’s move last year to leave it due to differences over China’s support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, human rights and other issues as well as after its just-concluded unprecedented military drills that have been seen as preparations for its invasion of the democratically self-ruled island of Taiwan.
The move follows China’s boosting of its relations with Russia, whose invasion of Ukraine is seen as a possible first step in a series of moves against countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. China has refused to criticize Russia and has condemned punishing economic sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West, noted the AP Aug 12.
Latvia’s Foreign Ministry said the country’s continued participation in the China group was “no longer in line with our strategic objectives in the current international environment,” reported Reuters Aug 12.
In statements published Aug 11, both Latvia and Estonia have said they would continue to work towards “constructive and pragmatic relations with China” while respecting the rules-based international order and human rights.
The AP report cited critics as saying the forum was an attempt to exploit differences among those states as part of a larger campaign to join with Russia in undermining the current rules-based international order dominated by the US and its allies.
China launched the forum in Budapest in 2012 to strengthen relations with members of the EU as well as Serbia and others, partly to further Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road campaign to build bridges, railways, power plants and other infrastructure across the Eurasian continent.
Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are among countries that remain in the cooperation format.
With regard to the Czech Republic, however, its foreign ministry said in May that the promise of large Chinese investments and mutually beneficial trade were not being fulfilled, following calls within the country’s parliament to quit the group, noted the Reuters report.