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Foreign minister rejects China embassy intelligence service criticisms

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Urmas Reinsalu at the UN Security Council in New York earlier this month.
Urmas Reinsalu at the UN Security Council in New York earlier this month. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) has rejected recent criticisms of the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service (Välisluureamet) annual report made by the Chinese embassy.

As reported on ERR News, the embassy issued a statement late last week criticizing the report's section on China, which warned of growing influence in Estonia via investments, the proposed use of the 5G network, and other means. The embassy requested the foreign intelligence service amend its report.

"I reject the request made by the embassy," Reinsalu told ERR on Tuesday morning.

"The Foreign Intelligence Agency's assessment is a security assessment based on their own expertise. It certainly does not mean that we will not develop bilateral cooperation with China in the interests of both our mutual security and our national security." Reinsalu continued.

The foreign minister declined to comment on whether the statement by the Chinese embassy was related to Estonia's status as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC) or any other specific development.

China is a UNSC permanent member.

"We work with all Member States on the UNSC, including all the permanent ones. We have also consulted with Chinese officials and mediated our positions. The UNSC is a place where countries with very different political systems and different values communicate with each other. But once again - with regard to references to the activities of the Foreign Intelligence Agency, and the Chinese embassy's requests, I reject these," he continued.

Reinsalu added the issue of China's growing influence in the world is under discussion at EU and NATO levels. "We will certainly follow these developments closely. The Estonian government has also adopted their own China policy principles," he added.

"The German presidency (Germany is the next country to hold the rotating EU presidency-ed.) is planning an EU summit in the second half of this year, to be attended by all EU heads of government on the one hand, and Chinese leaders on the other. This is a sign that China's participation in international relations is growing. We need to draw lessons from this and look at its implications, both for our transatlantic value union between countries and globally," he continued.

"I think that the more united the EU is in its relations with China, the more reasonable it can be," Reinsalu added.

In its annual report (pp 70-79), the Foreign Intelligence Service expressed concerns about a rising influence of China, twinned with increased investment, dependency on Chinese tech, and poltial lobbying. The report also said that given the size of Estonia, such dependency, followed by later pressures, was easier to bring about, but was also part of a broader pattern in China's dealings with other countries.

Karu: The Foreign Intelligence Report is based on data

Foreign Trade and Information Technology Minister Kaimar Karu said in response to a request for criticism from the Chinese Embassy that the Foreign Intelligence Agency's assessment was based on data, not subjective opinions.

"The position, remarks and recommendations of the Foreign Intelligence Agency are based on expert work and broad international cooperation (including information sharing), not on the personal preferences of its employees. The purpose of the agency is to protect Estonia's security, taking into account all available information," he said.

"China has been Estonia's partner trading for many years, with whom we wish to continue our cooperation. For a small country, it is undoubtedly important for us to build our trade patterns in a sustainable way that takes into account Estonia's interests. China is also a partner of interest to us in the context of tourism and culture, and there is clearly another interest - we will continue to work together on this," added Karu, who is appointed by EKRE.

Paet: Estonia should leave the 17 + 1 format

Urmas Paet (Reform), a member of the European Parliament and former Foreign Minister, urged Estonia on Tuesday to leave the 17 + 1 format, in which 17 countries in Eastern and Central Europe are cooperating with China.

He said the Chinese Embassy's reaction was so strong because the Estonian Foreign Intelligence Service had given an accurate assessment of the situation.

"Estonia should move away from the 17 + 1 special format with China, where 17 are poorer European countries - both EU and non-EU - and one is China, of course, for the sake of a more coherent European Union policy. China's influence in more susceptible in European countries," Paet said, adding Estonia's priority must also be a coherent and strong EU policy with China.

Peat said, against the backdrop of being able to borrow big sums of money, quickly, from China: "It must be remembered that this country holds more than one million minorities in camps, maintains tense relations with Taiwan, supports the North Korean criminal regime, etc. The recent decision to punish people who hide coronavirus (Covid-19) symptoms with the death penalty speaks volumes about the nature of the regime in the People's Republic of China," said Paet.

"It is important for Estonia and its relations with China to contribute first and foremost to forming a united policy of the European Union with the country, not to imagine that it is possible to get a gift by acting alone. It is not," Paet emphasized.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Helen Wright

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