By European standards, they are medium-sized or small powers with limited strategic resources and sometimes limited geopolitical visions. Interestingly, Portugal and Greece, two maritime nations situated in the southern part of Europe, are former superpowers with glorious histories. On the eastern side, the Czech Republic, previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then part of Czechoslovakia, is surrounded by larger European countries, such as Germany and Poland, but remains a proudly independent member of the European Union EU. Finally, the Republic of Serbia is one of the largest countries in Southeast Europe but still relatively isolated due to the s Balkans war.
It is close to the EU but not yet a member. Although relations between China and each country differ greatly based on historical bilateral relations, data collected through this research, including interviews with local actors and analysts, suggests China is slowly building a community of friendly countries.
In most cases, there is also evidence that their foreign policy decisions have been influenced by a rising Chinese economic presence, which has led their governments to align with Beijing on issues ranging from human rights to the South China Sea. Part of this study will look at a set of Chinese activities in these countries and try to determine the real level of influence that China may have on their societies.
Still, although lobbying may be an English word, 20 the Chinese have certainly made it their own. For the past ten years—to be precise, since the Beijing Olympics—Chinese leadership has been investing in its international image through a selection of public diplomacy tools, 22 including the Association of Public Diplomacy, 23 Confucius Institutes, 24 new think tanks, 25 overseas-based chambers of commerce, and Chinese cultural centers.
In Europe, Italy leads in negative views 31 percent, down from 32 percent in , followed by Germany 34 percent, up from 28 percent. Greece, one of the four case studies here and the only one surveyed by Pew in , has a 50 percent favorable opinion of China. Generally, European public opinions are either slightly positive or negative. Within Southern and Eastern European countries, public opinion, lack of interest, apathy, and pragmatism exemplified by a sense that no one else came to their rescue during the euro crisis dominate.
Independent media reporting, academic work, and coverage on China are sparse. Even research on bilateral relations between China and each individual country is often limited due to a lack of resources or motivation. Portugal, a European country with a long-standing relationship with China due to its own colonial history, notably in Asia, became a key partner of Beijing in Western Europe in after signing a strategic partnership exactly five years after the handover of its tiny colony of Macau to China. Each year, the Sino-Portuguese Macau Forum takes place in the former colony, sometimes in the presence of the Portuguese prime minister and a Chinese vice premier.
The Macau connection has played a crucial role in the continuation of the Sino-Portuguese relationship, primarily through a group of influential politicians and advisers once posted in that former colony. Some of these advisers were instrumental in bringing in the first wave of Chinese investors in the s, mainly in real estate through the empire of Stanley Ho, the Portuguese-speaking casino magnate.
As of January , about 3, Chinese nationals had benefited from the scheme—constituting 60 percent of total golden visas, according to the Immigration and Borders Service. Relations between China and Portugal took a fresh step when then president Hu Jintao visited Lisbon in Current Premier Li Keqiang also visited in in addition to a stopover in the Azores, raising concerns in Washington and Brussels about possible investment plans for a maritime research and commercial center on the island of Terceira, next to the U.
Above all, Portugal has become an important recipient of Chinese investment in Europe; per capita, it is one of the largest. According to Portuguese executives, China was the only country willing to step in at the height of the financial crisis in , when the Lisbon government was under pressure from the European Commission, European Central Bank, and International Monetary Fund the so-called troika to sell state assets.
At the time, CTG was a relatively minor Chinese state-owned corporation responsible for the construction of the controversial Three Gorges dam in China. It has subsidiaries in the field of renewable energy wind farms, hydro plants in Spain and the United States; it is now the fourth-largest wind operator in the world. As a major player in the U. In , CTG raised its stake to In other words, Lisbon wanted to show that it welcomed Chinese investment as discussions between the two countries were being finalized on the southern deepwater port of Sines.
Fosun made the best offer over that of Apollo, a U. Taken together, these acquisitions are strategic assets with strong potential to play an influential role in Portuguese society. More generally, Chinese investors have acquired significant real estate and commercial land, and Portugal is becoming a top destination for Chinese tourists. The Portuguese people have indeed inherited the glorious history of a former superpower that comes with the long-term relationship with China established from the Ming dynasty onward.
Others insist on Portugal as belonging to the West for a long time to come.
Generally, the Portuguese elites are adamant about their lack of options. Those who are now criticizing us? Some have taken a divergent opinion. Portugal has become a Chinese aircraft carrier into Europe. For the past three years, the public discourse has become increasingly favorable to Chinese investment and the BRI, with the government openly intending to offer Lisbon as one of the top destinations for them. Consequently, there are few dissenting views. The construction of a China-sponsored Culture Center in Lisbon is expected to be completed soon.
How does all this activity translate to the Portuguese population? Our survey shows mixed results. Regarding other perceptions of China, 62 percent of the respondents perceived it favorably, but 54 percent wanted more discussion about China in Portuguese society, with nearly 43 percent saying that much more discussion would be good. Although generally conservative, Portuguese people are also broad minded and market oriented. The very small Portuguese academic community of China specialists is very neutral on this issue and some of them are involved in research projects with Chinese universities or are indirectly subsidized by China via its embassy.
This development led to some fairly critical press articles. Then prime minister Konstantinos Karamanlis visited China in It appears that the successive Olympic Games in Athens and Beijing played a crucial role in the closer relationship that began in that decade. However, it was the European financial crisis that moved the Sino-Greek relationship into a new phase. Interestingly, Sino-Greek cooperation in maritime transport, which began through initial conversations regarding the Port of Piraeus in , was based on the EU-China Maritime Cooperation and Strategic Agenda In the aftermath of the financial crisis, China became a key investor in Greece.
That same year, a thirty-year concession was awarded to the Chinese state-owned shipping giant China Overseas Shipping Group Co. Overall, this investment ranks as one of the most successful Greek privatizations in recent decades. COSCO has successfully upgraded the infrastructure, introduced more efficient machinery and equipment, dealt with labor union issues, improved the management system, and created more traffic.
In , that number had grown more than sevenfold to 4 million TEU, 62 with the aim of reaching 6. New investments include a new pier, a ship-repair zone, a logistics center, and a car terminal. By , the new COSCO-built container terminals employed 1, workers, silencing most labor union unrest. In , the number of Chinese tourists reached a record 35, Chinese leaders have spent a great deal of time visiting Greece: in , then president Hu Jintao paid a visit to attend the signing ceremony for the first Chinese investment in Piraeus; then premier Wen Jiabao came in October ; and in the summer of , both President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang visited Athens.
Having said that, whether Greece would stay within Europe is not only a question that concerns Europe but also concerns China and Europe. As an investor, China seems determined to defend its own interests and express its views publicly and locally. For months, it adopted a wait-and-see attitude so as not to become a scapegoat in the Greek political context. Eventually, this strategy was successful. The country remains heavily indebted; at the same time, foreign investors have benefited from a drop in asset prices, including the value of companies, real estate, industrial land, and even labor.
Other investments include renewable energy and telecommunications. For example, in late , Shenhua Renewables acquired four wind parks, currently run by Copelouzos Group, a local company. Led by the Shanghai-based group Fosun, already active in several European countries, including Portugal, a consortium has purchased the former Hellenikon airport south of Athens to turn it into a leisure complex in the mode of Dubai.
Other investors were not as successful, despite financial backing from the New Development Bank, although many more Sino-Greek memoranda of understanding MOUs have been signed. On two occasions, Greece has taken a view that diverged significantly from that of the EU. Thus, instead of the strong statement of support submitted to the European Council by the European External Action Service, acknowledging a ruling unfavorable to Beijing, the EU issued a very general statement on the arbitration outcome, delivering a symbolic victory for China.
The next area in which Greece could oppose the EU is the plan to increase the screening of foreign direct investments. Will it at least agree to a nonbinding mechanism for certain types of investments particularly technology and infrastructure or at least remain neutral? This presence may come with a price, however.
The Tsipras government hopes that Chinese investors will make a real difference in job creations, which have not been massive until now. China also has stepped up its Greek presence on other fronts. The two countries have been looking at their limited common heritage, trying to build a joint narrative that would fit the Belt and Road Initiative. Always keen on building its soft power in key countries, China has sponsored numerous cultural activities. Greek academics have begun taking an interest in China as well. Several forums are taking a deep look into Sino-Greek relations, including a China-Greece website.
Based on the annual Pew Research Center survey, the answer seems an emphatic yes: 50 percent of Greeks have a favorable or somewhat favorable view of China, with only 40 percent somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable. In our own survey, close to 60 percent of the respondents perceived China favorably. In addition, among the options listed, more respondents 53 percent listed China above the United States 36 percent as the second most important country for Greece today.
When asked about which country they believe will be the most important to Greece ten years from now, respondents list the EU 48 percent , the US 29 percent and China 21 percent. However, 41 percent believed that impact to be small. As Beijing warily watched developments in Eastern Europe in , Czech relations with China became cool and distant. Every year, the highly popular Havel hosted fellow Nobel Prize winners, including the Dalai Lama and former leaders of the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in Beijing.
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Such an invitation would be considered unacceptable by China today. In , Xi Jinping paid a carefully staged state visit to Prague, giving China a unique platform in a country not considered an ally. Keenly aware that their newfound harmony is not widely shared by the Czech populace, both sides went too far in ensuring that potential trouble-makers were kept safely out of sight. No significant investment in energy has taken place, however. Czech Invest, the Czech agency for investment promotion, estimated in that China had become one of the top five foreign investors in the Czech Republic, but few projects actually have been executed.
It is hard to separate the Czech case from its regional context. Almost all countries of the region are part of this group, set up by China to increase its relations with former members of the Soviet bloc. Many of these countries, having been full members of the EU since , felt chastised by the EU and Germany during and after the euro-debt crisis. Several governments, including those of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, have also been unhappy with the ways in which the EU handled the Syrian refugee crisis; above all, they have needed cash, which led a number of local politicians to welcome and encourage Chinese investments in infrastructures.
Although the EU has pumped large amounts of money into the region for the past fifteen years, those funds have come with strings attached that is, with strict competition rules and transparency requirements in the form of grants. Chinese loans tend to be more difficult to track down and thus are favored by less principled businessmen and politicians. Increased influence and presence, leverage on European institutions for those member-states, and the potential impact on the EU for aspiring members in the Balkans. By and large, it is looking to build a coalition of friendly nations on the world stage, and CEE is a key component.
Turcsanyi, major investments projects have benefited only Czech financial oligarchies and are unlikely to benefit the economy as a whole. Similar to countries such as Portugal and Greece, there is a lack of interest in and knowledge of China within the Czech general public. Unlike the others, the Czech Republic does not have external problems, and has little migration and a relatively strong economy. Other areas affected by Chinese influence include public debates on China-related political matters, such as Tibet.
In , then minister of culture Daniel Herman agreed to meet the Dalai Lama privately in Prague, but was rebuked publicly by Zeman, then prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka, and the leaders of the two houses of Parliament. The issue of Chinese influence also exists in a number of non-economic areas, especially academia and the media.
On the media front, the ChinfluenCE project has been conducting thorough research on the subject of Chinese influence. Between and , it analyzed 1, Czech media outputs in connection with political or economic issues. Unlike the latter, which has been meddling openly in the local political lives of these countries, China is seen as a power trying to do business with the region. Although China has managed to enter the country quickly, the new Czech government appears to be rethinking its embrace of both China and Chinese investment. Beijing has engaged in a number of massive projects in the Balkans, although the most high-profile one, the Belgrade-Budapest high-speed railway, has failed to materialize so far.
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Tito waited until to visit Beijing for the first time. This breakthrough was seen as important in Sino-Serbian relations. Investments are rising because the Belgrade government is able to move quickly as a non-EU member. The steel mill generates 5, jobs in Smederevo, a city of , that has depended on the mill for decades.
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