TOKYO — China, controlled by its all-powerful Chinese Communist Party, was not perceived particularly favorably, but was nevertheless a promising business partner, diplomats and intellectuals told me when I visited the Czech Republic and Hungary two years ago.
Enthusiasm for China was strong in Eastern Europe at the time, amid a period of rapid economic construction. But expectations among these nations of the support that China could offer are starting to turn into disappointment.
Amid the escalating confrontation between the U.S. and China, countries such as Japan, Australia, European nations and other allies of the U.S., are discussing the major item on their agenda of how to cooperate over policy towards China. The detachment of Eastern European countries from China indicates the limitation of Beijing’s economic influence and provides a useful clue about how the U.S., Japan and Europe can compete against China for geopolitical clout.
Sentiment about China has clearly already dampened in Western European nations, such as Germany, France and Britain, due to such issues as disputed island-building in the South China Sea, cyber espionage, the infringement of Hong Kong’s autonomy and the suppression of Uyghur people in China’s Xinjiang province. China apparently being the source of the spread of COVID-19 infections has not helped.
There was reportedly an extremely strained atmosphere at a summit meeting between the European Union and China via video conference on Sept. 14 as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU leaders criticized China for human rights violations, provoking a strong reaction from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who said China did not need a “teacher” on human rights.