ATHENS – Greece remains all in with China despite that country’s growing military menace against the island of Taiwan it claims which has seen denunciation from the west and more than a dozen European countries pulling out of a cooperation group.
Latvia and Estonia now have joined Lithuania in pulling out of the so-called 16 + 1 format – now 14 +1 – which is an initiative of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to promose relations with Central and Eastern European countries.
“Past participation in the 16+1 format has not yielded the desired economic results,” Latvia’s Foreign Ministry told Reuters and relations between Lithuania and China worsened after the Baltic country let Taiwan open a de facto embassy there.
In statements, Latvia and Estonia said they would continue to work toward “constructive and pragmatic relations with China” while respecting the rules-based international order and human rights.
Greece remains a member of the framework as it’s dependent on Chinese investors – the Chinese management company COSCO operates the port of Piraeus – and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis keen on getting more Chinese business interests in the country.
The European Union regards China as a strategic rival in some areas and has been wary of that country using its financial interests to gain footholds in the block and wants to reform trade rules at the World Trade Organization.
This is despite China sanctioning some European Parliament members and punishing Lithuania economically. Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia also remain in the cooperation format.
In 2017, Greece’s then-ruling Radical Left SYRIZA – which allegedly was in favor of human rights but has a hard-core element of Communist sympathizers – vetoed an EU condemnation of China’s human rights records.
That was brought before the United Nations, SYRIZA’s siding with China bringing fury from diplomats who said it undermined the defense of human rights despite many other UN members violating them constantly.
SYRIZA refused to endorse an EU statement criticising the crackdown on activists and dissidents under the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. “We acted from a position of principle,” an official at the Greek foreign ministry told the British newspaper The Guardian.
Human rights groups including Amnesty International said it was the first time the EU had failed to make such a statement at the UN’s top rights body and Greece drew even more fire because it’s refusal to back the statement came as the country was getting more bailout loans from the EU.
Greece’s decision was directly attributed to huge Chinese investments, the paper noted, pointing out that COSCO had become the majority stakes holder in Piraeus that turned it around.
That was at the same time that SYRIZA was blocking other foreign investors and held up the 8-billion euro ($8.21 billion) development of the abandoned Hellenikon International Airport which the ruling New Democracy has restarted.
But now the Conservatives – as did the Leftists – have continued to back China showing the significance of investments over human rights and what critics said are Chinese threats toward Taiwan that escalated after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island.