Estonia should leave the China-led 17+1 cooperation framework, an Estonian MEP says, following news that a prominent academic was imprisoned for three years on espionage charges earlier this month.
Riho Terras (Isamaa), former commander of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), says the 17+1 format, which brings together, as its name suggests, 17 mostly Central and Eastern European nations along with the People's Republic of China, has become too much of a liability in recent times, meaning its existence can no longer be swept under the carpet.
In a letter addressed to foreign minister Eva-Maria Liimets (Reform), Terras wrote that: "Our own Foreign Intelligence Service has pointed out the activities of the Chinese secret services and their use of 'soft power'".
"It was only last week that an academic caught spying for the Chinese was apprehended. The threat is clearer and more real than ever," Terras continued, according to BNS.
The academic referred to is prominent marine scientist Tarmo Kõuts (not to be confused with one of Terras' predecessors as EDF commander, who has the same name – ed.) who was sentenced by the first-tier Harju County Court on March 3, after being detained by the Internal Security Service (ISS) last September. A woman detained at the same time and for the same reason has yet to be sentenced, it is reported.
China's embassy in Tallinn recently protested, not for the first time, how the country was portrayed in the 2021 yearbook of ISS' foreign counterpart, the Välisluuramet.
Riho Terras, who became an MEP following the May 2019 European Parliamentary elections, called on Liimets, a former diplomat, to share an overview of the 17+1 activities since it was formed three years ago.
Terras added all working level contacts and cooperation events involving China needed review, not just 17+1, also citing human rights violations.
Terras also noted five MEPs and several other European politicians, diplomats and other representatives have had sanctions recently imposed on them by China, including four from Lithuania.
"China does not strive for cooperation but instead towards increasing its influence and paralyzing democratic processes," Terras added.
Editor: Andrew Whyte