THE ROLE AND INFLUENCE OF THE PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA ON VISEGRAD GROUP COUNTRIES. The aim of the project is to monitor the activities of the PRC in relation to the V4 countries – Poland, Czechia, Hungary and Slovakia. The project is funded by the International Visegrad Fund.
Date: 6 December 2021 Author: Patryk Szczotka
Chinese Influence in the Slovak Information and Media Space
The Polish-Belarusian border crisis is definitely one of the most significant events of 2021, both in the European and international arena. Not only Lithuania (which is struggling with the same situation), but also important European players, such as Germany and France, the United States, as well as international organizations, for instance, NATO or the European Union, are already showing interest in the problem. According to political and media circles, China could play a significant part in solving this situation.
The potential importance of Chinese assistance in the crisis on the Polish border was mentioned in the media by Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz, the former Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Russia, currently the Head of the Strategie 2050 Institute. She suggested that the fact that 10% of Chinese exports to the EU are transported across the Polish-Belarusian border could be used as a bargaining chip to force the Chinese to act behind the scenes on Belarus if Poland indicates its willingness to close the border crossings with this country.[i] Similar rhetoric was also picked up by some political circles, as evidenced in an interview with Szymon Hołownia, leader of the Polska 2050 (Poland 2050), for the Rzeczpospolita daily. According to polls, this political party is the third political force in Poland.[ii] In the opinion of Hołownia, close cooperation with the EU may be supplemented with pressure on Belarus by potentially stopping the flow of goods from China to Europe.[iii] According to Belarusian journalist Tadeusz Giczana, the Małaszewicze transshipment terminal[iv], known as “China’s gateway to Europe” due to the fact that 90% of rail freight between China and the EU passes through it, would play a crucial role in this task.[v]
Experts are cautious about such ideas. Professor Wojciech Janicki from Maria Curie-Skłodowska University (MCSU) points out that by blocking the flow of goods in Małaszewicze, Poland will lead to stopping their supply to the countries of Western Europe. Consequently, such action should be consulted with our European partners.[vi] Andrzej Jakubowski, PhD, from the Institute of Social-Economic Geography and Spatial Management at MCSU stresses that blocking the terminal may have the opposite effect since it is located on the Polish territory and mainly the Polish state benefits financially from transshipment and trade transactions which occur there, while the profits of the Belarus are much smaller.[vii] There is also a risk that transit traffic would shift to other routes, which would discourage the Chinese from developing their business in collaboration with Poland in the long term.[viii]
A similar opinion is expressed by Kamil Kłysiński from the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW), who claims that shutting down the terminal without closing the whole border makes little sense, as it is not located in its immediate vicinity.[ix] He also highlights that such a move will hit not only Belarus but also Polish entrepreneurs.[x] Jakub Jakóbowski, another expert of the OSW, made a similar comment on Twitter about the idea of closing the terminal. According to him, the role of Małaszewicze is insignificant (it accounted for only 4.3% of trade between the EU and China in 2020) and while it may become a PR problem for the Chinese New Silk Road, the terminal is of no strategic importance from the perspective of Chinese global interests.[xi] Adrian Zwoliński, economist associated with the Boym Institute, believes that closing the transshipment hub will create economic problems for Poland, while the role of a mediator in the conflict between Poland and Belarus is not attractive for China because Beijing prioritizes its relations with the Russian Federation.[xii]
The closure of the transshipment terminal in Małaszewicze, although picked up by some parties of the Polish political discourse, seems to make no sense from the economic and geopolitical standpoint. What is more, it may even be counterproductive. Since China prioritizes relations with Russia[xiii], it would be unreasonable to expect that it will engage in the resolution of this conflict, whereas the economic blockade, although potentially damaging for Belarus, may bring Poland even greater financial and political losses. In this case, the Polish state should, above all, act within the European mechanisms and closely cooperate with NATO countries.
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This article is a part of the project “The Role and Influence of the People’s Republic of China on Visegrad Group Countries” funded by the International Visegrad Fund.
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