Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu believes China poses a threat to the protection of Western values around the world, which is why Estonia needs to rethink its inclusion in the "17 + 1" format.
In a long interview with daily newspaper Eesti Päevaleht published on Wednesday, Reinsalu (Isamaa) said he would prefer a dialogue with a greater weight between the EU as a whole and China rather than the 17+1 format which promotes business and investment relations with Central and Eastern European countries.
"We will reinterpret the meaning of 17 + 1 in the near future. We have not made a decision to leave," said Reinsalu, adding Estonia is still analyzing it's China policy.
The foreign minister criticized the violation of human rights, especially the violence against the Uighurs: "There are serious human rights violations in China and China will certainly increase its aggressive presence in the world. Russia does not have enough reach to offer third world countries an alternative model from the West, but China offers a social alternative without democratic freedoms."
Reinsalu also warned against Chinese investments which increase China's political influence: "Chinese investments are not passive, they lead to an increase in political influence. They are not ready to create the illusion that China is not ready to use this influence."
The minister acknowledged that his views could provoke reactions from the Chinese Embassy, but he considered this to be commonplace in diplomatic relations. "Estonia is an independent country and we make our own foreign policy," he said.
The 17 members of the initiative are Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia. Estonia joined the initiative in 2012.
Reinsalu is not the only Estonian politician to criticize China recently. In an interview leader of the opposition Reform Party said that China's treatment of the Uighurs is reminiscent of the Holocaust.
Editor: Helen Wright