On 28 April, the Eastern Europe Studies Centre hosted the fourth discussion of its “Coffee and International Politics“ (“Kava ir tarptautinė politika”) format. This time we discussed recent political developments in China. During the event, Raigirdas Boruta, Associate Expert at the EESC, presented an overview of developments in China and South-East Asia in the first quarter of this year. The discussion was moderated by the EESC’s Chief Research Programme Officer Tomas Janeliūnas.
Recently, Chinese espionage activities in the US have increased significantly. China is gathering information for itself in areas of critical importance such as industry, cyber and academia. The scandal of the Chinese spy balloon spotted in US airspace earlier this year is also worth recalling. In addition, spies are becoming more sophisticated – for example, a person working for China tried to steal blueprints for turbines by hiding them in digital photographs. The ongoing political process to ban the social media platform TikTok in the US also reflects the complexity of the relationship between the US and China: the story of TikTok demonstrates the struggle to find a balance between data security and freedom of expression.
China’s ambition to become not only an economic and political power, but also a diplomatic power is clear. This is evident in Beijing’s willingness to mediate in global conflicts, including the war in Ukraine as well as the conflicts between Saudi Arabia and Iran and Israel and Palestine. This is a rather serious attempt to undermine the dominance of European countries and the US in global politics. The EU’s countries are not united on China. Despite the fact that political leaders speak of China as a systemic rival and advocate bans on Chinese technological products, the possibility of complete economic decoupling is not on the table. Lithuania’s example of abandoning exports to China is unique in this context. It must be used to show other European countries how economic decoupling from China is possible without too great an economic defeat.
Interestingly, small and medium-sized businesses are already opting to leave the Chinese market, with only large corporations making a fresh entry. This is due to the domestic political situation, with China on its way to consolidating its militarist and autocratic regime. Taiwanese companies are also sceptical about doing business in China. China’s economic and political power is projected to start declining around 2027, mainly due to demographics. However, analysts are also seriously considering the potential of a serious clash between Beijing and Washington, which could be both military and political in nature.