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Two more Baltic states decline China-led forum during Ukraine war

Estonia and Latvia have said they will withdraw from a decade-old mechanism China established to deepen its influence in Europe, following Baltic neighbor Lithuania's withdrawal from the group last year. I'm here.

The China-Central and Eastern Europe Cooperation (China-CEEC) Forum, established in April 2012, included 16 countries, with the first summit held in Poland. As we all know, 16+1 seemed to go from strength to strength when Greece joined her 2019.

But Lithuania will withdraw from the group in 2021, citing security concerns and complaints about rising authoritarianism in Beijing, a senior Lithuanian lawmaker said. VOA earlier this year. The country also said it wanted to end the practice of trading with large powers on a subregional group basis and said it preferred a unified European Union approach.

Lithuania's two Baltic neighbors announced last week that they too would not be participating in the group's activities. A statement issued by the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said China's close ties with Russia were factored into China's decision.

Both sides said they would like to continue their efforts towards a constructive and pragmatic relationship with China, but within the framework of the EU-China relationship, stating that they would In line with the international order and such values” as human rights.

After sitting on the sidelines since early 2021,

the last summit to be held under the China-CEEC mechanism will be in February 2021, when China That was when President Xi Jinping invited senior officials to a virtual conference. Ahli Remik told VOA.

Latvia meanwhile said its continued participation in the 16+1 format was no longer in line with its strategic objectives in the current geopolitical situation. rice field.

“China-Russia relations are becoming ever closer. China has repeatedly confirmed its strategic partnership with Russia, even after Russia launched a major military offensive in Ukraine.

"Since 16+1 is a form of international dialogue and not an international organization, formal withdrawal procedures do not apply. Latvia will no longer participate in the activities of this framework," the statement said. Stated.

FILE - Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin speak in Beijing, Feb. 4, 2022. Latvia and Estonia say they have left a Chinese-backed forum aimed at boosting relations with Eastern European countries. The move follows China’s boosting of its relations with Russia.
Files - Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet in Beijing, 4 February 2022. The move comes on the heels of China's strengthening ties with Russia.

A Romania-based expert who has tracked China and Central and Eastern Europe called the 16+1 exercise an "initiative that did not become a 'fan club'." I explained. of Chinese partners.

Horia Ciultin, an expert at the New Strategy Center, a think tank based in Bucharest, said, "For the time being, at least in the short to medium term, [China's] expansion will be limited. I think we've reached it," he said. , in a written response to a question from VOA. "It hits the ceiling and slowly ossifies and recedes. And this is not just the case for Central/Eastern Europe, but across scattered maps."

Ciurtin believes that the Ukrainian conflict and China's relations with Russia have made it more difficult for China to market itself as a friendly investor and trading partner. He criticized the decisions Latvia and Estonia made.

The war in Ukraine "provided a good opportunity for Latvia and Estonia to follow the Lithuanian path," he said. 47} Lithuania has been punished

Lithuania decided last year to withdraw from the China-CEEC forum and expand trade ties with democratic Taiwan. Since then, it has been the target of China's political and economic punitive measures.

After Chinese and Estonian foreign ministers met online in January, Chinese state media hailed Estonia as an "example" of how European countries treat bilateral relations. Bei and jing, "in contrast to Lithuania."

But following last week's announcement, Beijing'sGlobal Timescalled Estonia and Latvia's decisions "short-sighted." and posted an article saying that it was the result of yielding to US pressure. He said the China-CEEC Forum was "just in time" and that the forum would continue nonetheless.

The Global Times also said neither the United States nor her EU could count on the kind of economic support that China provides.

When asked to respond, a State Department spokesperson said the United States "continues to closely support [Estonia and Latvia's] efforts to make the Baltics a more resilient and prosperous region."

"Estonia and Latvia are highly regarded NATO allies and important partners for the United States on a range of issues, including strong defense and economic ties, and the promotion of democracy and human rights." said the spokesperson.

"Our free and democratic nation goes beyond a commitment to the same values ​​to create prosperity that helps economies thrive," the spokesperson added.