China expert: Estonia could leave 16+1, promote relations with Taiwan

Frank Jüris.
Frank Jüris. Source: ERR

Estonia could leave China's European 16+1 cooperation format and promote relations with Taiwan, said analyst Frank Jüris, a researcher at the Estonian Institute of Foreign Relations.

The 16+1 format is a head of state-level initiative between China and 16 eastern, central and southern European countries. Lithuania left the format this year and there have been discussions Estonia could follow suit.

"I think that other countries will soon follow and step out of the 16+1 format, considering the long-term strategic interests of the European Union," Jüris told ERR.

He said the European Union has emphasized in its India-Pacific Strategy that maintaining peace in the region is one of the EU's key interests.

Each member state could contribute to fostering the necessary deterrence by promoting relations with Taiwan, he said.

"Because the closer and better economic and cultural relations are with Taiwan, the higher the price of China's military aggression against Taiwan," the expert said.

Asked whether this means Estonia could leave the 16+1 and promote relations with Taiwan, Jüris said: "In short - yes."

The 16+1 initiative was started by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2012 and seeks to promote business and investment relations. However, it is seen by the EU as an attempt to divide the 27 member states.

Estonia has reduced its participation in the framework "to a minimum", Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Aari Lemmik told ERR on Tuesday. 

"There is currently no active cooperation in this framework," she said. "Estonia prefers to cooperate with China bilaterally or with the European Union on common issues."

China's war with Taiwan would also endanger Estonia's security

Speaking about deterrence, Jüris highlighted China's recent threats to Taiwan and said Western unity and support for Taiwan would help prevent a possible military attack on the island.

"In terms of deterrence, it is useful if the European Union is united in its foreign policy towards China. And what Estonia can do in this light is not only rhetorical, but it could also act to ensure the European Union has a unified foreign policy towards China," he said. 

Jüris said, in addition to making arms deals with Russia, China has tried to learn from Moscow about its activities in Georgia and Ukraine. This is because the nation is shifting its military focus away from a large-scale defense war to managing and resolving regional conflicts.

If Beijing took military action, it would also damage Estonia's security by shifting the U.S.' focus to another region of the globe, he said.

"This will give Russia more room to maneuver in its immediate vicinity," Jüris explained. "Of course, resources in the world are limited by great powers like the U.S. Inevitably, our security situation would deteriorate and weaken as a result."

Relations sour between China and Lithuania

Lithuania left the 17+1 format earlier this year and relations between the two nations have soured since then, Lithuanian national broadcaster LRT reported.

Lithuania has criticized the human rights situation in China and has blocked Chinese investments. The government announced plans to open a trade office in Taiwan, which China considers to be a rebellious province.

Lithuania will also allow Taipei to open a representation in Vilnius using the name "Taiwan", a move which Beijing sees as an attempt to recognize the country that it considers as a breakaway province and therefore a breach of the so-called One China principle.

On August 10, China's Foreign Ministry recalled its ambassador to Lithuania and told Vilnius to follow suit.

China has recently started halting freight trains to Lithuania and stopped issuing food export permits, cut credit limits for Lithuanian companies and raised prices.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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