The rapprochement between China and the Baltic countries

The intensity of cooperation between China and Russia has increased and its sources have diversified, especially those Russian facilities for China to reach places close to the areas of Russian influence, especially in (the Eurasian region overlooking the countries of Eastern Europe and the three Baltic countries and their ports). This prompted NATO Secretary General “Stoltenberg” to issue an official statement, in which he affirmed that:

 “Our NATO forces are alternately present in the Baltic Sea, Poland and Romania, and we have new methods of intervention. In the event of a crisis, reinforcements from new units can be quickly delivered to the place, and NATO will be “vigilant” with regard to the country of Belarus, given that it is a friendly country to Russia and which  Challenge three NATO member states of (Poland, Latvia and Lithuania)”

  Through Stoltenberg’s statement, in his military capacity, as Secretary of NATO, we understand the sensitivity of the Eastern European region, in particular (the Baltic Sea ports) of the three bordering countries, which are: “Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania”, and perhaps this makes us understand clearly that (approach  the hard-line state of Lithuania from the Baltic states towards China), which coincided with the issuance of “NATO”, in which he emphasized his ability to protect his allies from the Baltic states and Eastern Europe and their ports against any kind of threats from Minsk, Moscow or China. Hence, we understand the developments in China’s relations with that region through Russia’s assistance to it, as follows:

China, with the help of Russia, tried to engage in a (joint naval maneuvers in the Baltic Sea region), so Russia succeeded in opening the doors for China to enhance its presence in the north of the European continent, which is formed new burdens on the US administration and to send strong messages to Washington in order to (stop provoking China and trying to besiege its influence in Asia and the Pacific). China has thus become (practicing a new policy that is more involved in the regional politics of Europe, West Asia and the Baltic region through the Russian gate, in response to the American involvement in Southeast Asia by strengthening its naval power).

Moscow and China began preparing (for the first phase) of the joint naval exercises in the Baltic Sea region for the first time since July 2017, which bore the name “Nautical Cooperation-2017”. Then (the second phase) of those exercises began in mid-September 2017, in the (Sea of ​​Japan and Okhotsk) region. With the successive US and military warnings to NATO, the defense ministries of Russia and China confirmed that these exercises are a normal tradition aimed at “strengthening the comprehensive strategic partnership in Russian-Chinese relations” and do not pose a threat to any party.

These joint training plans between China and Russia have aroused many reactions and fears from many NATO military countries, especially since China is participating in them for the first time in the Baltic Sea.  The Polish Defense Minister (Anthony Macherewicz) accused both Russia and China of (their strategic alliance poses a threat to the free world). In the same context, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania (Linas Linkavivicius), spoke of the danger of these exercises, which constitute a “challenge to NATO in the Baltic Sea”, stressing that “these maneuvers are now standing at the gates of Europe”.

These joint maneuvers between China and Russia in the Baltic Sea may carry a political message to both the “American administration and NATO”, according to which: “Russia and China support and protect each other”. However, China’s willingness to display its naval forces in the Baltic Sea, may indicate two things:

The first matter: It refers to (China’s long-term geopolitical plans, which Europe has become at its core). It appears here that Chinese plans aim to be present in the Atlantic and Baltic Sea region, in response to the US presence in the heart of its Asian influence.

The second matter: also indicates that (Beijing intends to realize these plans with the participation of Russia), Russia also aims to ensure China’s assistance to it in the Far East, specifically in the “Sea of ​​Japan”, due to the Japanese-Russian dispute over the “Kuril Islands”, so it is understood under the pretext of the presence of the American warships there, as a claim of protecting the interests of its Asian allies, which could lead to the permanent ignition of the Asian region.

However, despite the intensity of the joint Sino-Russian military and naval presence in the ports and countries of the Baltic Sea, it is expected that the rapprochement between the Baltic countries and China will increase, especially after (signing more than twenty bilateral investment treaties between the member states of the European Union with China), this  the European- Chinese agreement, will inevitably reduce the volume of security fears and doubts and raise political pressures on the Baltic countries for fear of dealing with the Beijing government.

In general, there is a (growing trend of pragmatic-economic populism in the Baltic states and the European Union), which sees the necessity of cooperation with China in all economic fields permitted by international relations, allowing a space for free economic cooperation between the Baltic countries and China in the future.

The Baltic countries participated in diplomatic representation (at a lower level than heads of state only at the level of ministers), in the (17+1 summit), chaired by Chinese President “Xi Jinping”, on cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries. The (17 + 1) initiative was established in 2012 in the Hungarian capital of “Budapest”, with the aim of (expanding economic cooperation between Beijing and the member states of Central and Eastern Europe).

The general framework of the (17 + 1) initiative between China and Central and Eastern Europe, including the Baltic states, focuses on infrastructure projects, such as: (bridges, highways, railways, and ports modernization) in the member states. The “17+1 initiative” includes about (twelve member states of the European Union, including the “Balkans, Baltic states, Eastern European countries”).

China cooperates with a large number of Balkan, Baltic and Central and Eastern European countries, within the framework of the “17+1 Initiative”. China views the “17+1 initiative” – ​​to a large extent – as an extension of China’s Belt and Road Initiative. The initiative countries cooperating with China can be divided, as follows:

Among the most prominent (Balkan countries) with which China cooperates within the framework of the “17+1 initiative”,which are:

  (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Romania)

Among the most prominent (Eastern European countries) in the “17+1 initiative”, which cooperates with China, are: (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia)

While the (Baltic States) in the “17+1 initiative”, cooperating with China, are: (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania)

Here, (the diplomatic representation below the level of the heads of the Baltic states in the 17 + 1 summit initiative) indicates a remarkable shift in the political position of the Baltic states from engaging more with China, and we find that (the trends of popular public opinion in the Baltic countries in 2021 showed a welcome  of the Baltic citizens in economic cooperation with China), as the majority of the citizens of the Baltic states do not see that Beijing poses a threat to the influence of Brussels.

As for the (position of governments in the Baltic countries to deal with China), we find that (Lithuania is the most hard-line against the Chinese side), and Lithuania’s most hard-line position against China, regarding the (Lithuanian request from the World Health Organization “WHO” to invite Taiwan to attend a meeting to discuss the response  the global epidemic, but Beijing prevented Taiwan from participating as part of it).

On the other hand, (Latvia and Estonia) are looking for ways to deal with China (either at the bilateral level, or side by side with the European Union), and at the same time they are trying to ensure their national security, especially with what was announced by the “intelligence service”. State of Latvia in May 2020, in its annual report on national security, emphasizing:

  “China represents a cyber threat, and it is necessary to stay as far as possible from the effects of the Sino-American-European conflicts without burning the bridges of dealing between Latvia with any of them”

Newspapers in the Baltic countries have sometimes been interested in covering visits to China or vice versa, or publishing positive articles about China, which can be summarized in (an important phrase that has dangerous and far-reaching connotations), which is: “China has communists, but it’s not communism”

The trends of popular public opinion of the Baltic countries towards China are evident in (the possibility of economic cooperation with Beijing, with the necessity of not being geopolitical between the Baltic countries and China), while emphasizing at the same time the need to continue the Baltic external political and diplomatic dependence more on (European Union countries). And Russia, as part of the security system, borders and geopolitics of the Baltic states, as well as the Baltic’s cooperation with the United States of America as a (leader of NATO and its members), especially in the political, diplomatic, security and defense aspects.

   The Egyptian researcher has reached through this point related to (the Chinese presence in the Baltic Sea countries and ports with the help of its ally Russia and the protest of Washington and NATO security), to the adoption of the Russian policy for the Chinese agenda in Eastern Europe and the three Baltic states, which are: “Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania”, and even encouraging it.  It is the result of increased US interference in Russian and Chinese affairs.  And we find that the goal of Russia and China, through the maneuvers of “Nautical Cooperation in the Baltic Sea Region 2017”, for the first time, as if they want to (demonstrate that they are ready to defend their national interests against NATO and the United States), whether in the European West or in the Asian Far East in (Sea of ​​Japan, Okhotsk and the Kuril Islands).

  My personal analysis is that the new Chinese presence in the region of “the ports of the Baltic states and in the Eurasian region”, with Russian assistance, is also aimed at (China deliberately to increase the burdens and pressures on American influence in the Eurasian region, Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Crimea and the Eurasian belt). With the aim of (occupying the United States of America and keeping it away from the “Indian and Pacific Oceans, the South and East China Seas, Southeast Asia”), which are all the main areas that fall into the core of the Chinese sphere of influence in the first place.

Dr.Nadia Helmy
Dr.Nadia Helmy
Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit