'Suud puhtaks' talks China's influence on Estonia ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

"Suud puhtaks." January 28, 2020. Source: ERR

China's economic, military, political and cultural influence has gone global, and is increasingly clearly reaching as far as Estonia as well. Tuesday night's episode of ETV discussion program "Suud puhtaks" focused on what influence China has on Estonia.

Guests on the show discussed whether Estonia should accept Chinese investments into its major infrastructure projects, such as the previously reported on possibility of involving Chinese funding in the construction of the proposed Tallinn-Helsinki tunnel.

Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) member Anti Poolamets said that Chinese investments don't come without strings attached and will lead to a major reliance.

"This is reflected in the fact that Chinese business is by no means detached from the [Communist Party of China] and has a political background, especially in the case of very big investments," Poolamets said. "We need to find this money ourselves, if we really want to do this. I'd rather avoid huge infrastructure projects with strange, mysterious political price tags attached."

Heli Tiirmaa-Klaar, director general of the Cyber Diplomacy Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recalled that Estonia cannot decide over major infrastructure projects alone, but rather must consult with the European Commission as well. The Commission, she added, does not consider the proposed Tallinn-Helsinki Tunnel viable.

"We also have to consider the economic argument — to what extent such things are viable for ourselves — because at one point the Estonian state and the European Commission will have to contribute something to it," Tiirmaa-Klaar said. "This should be considered from an economic standpoint somehow. We definitely cannot start making decisions regarding economic matters simply to demonstrate a certain goodwill in participating in political projects."

According to China expert Liisi Karindi, China doesn't provide funding for any sort of project either. "It's not quite true that China is willing to buy some kind of project somewhere no matter the cost," she said.

Urmas Hõbepappel, a junior researcher on Asian politics at the University of Tartu, explained that China invests elsewhere in the world in order to grow its own economy.

"China has a national interest in finding foreign partners that would buy major infrastructure projects from them," Hõbepappel said.

Kai Kreos, head of the Estonia-Asia Trade Agency at Enterprise Estonia, said however that while many Chinese delegations have visited Estonia, there are very few entrepreneurs who are specifically interested in investing in Estonia.

Kreos added that Estonia cannot ignore China, because it has one of the world's biggest economies.

"We need to have a clear strategy for what we will do with China," she said. "Entrepreneurs should look more to China, because China currently accounts for a very small portion of Estonian exports. The point at which we should start seeing any sort of dangers is decades off."

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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