When six of 17 European leaders failed to turn up for an annual summit, via videolink, with China’s President Xi Jinping, it was a diplomatic setback and an embarrassment. Not even the lure of a Chinese vaccine could bring them to attend. The snub by leaders of Bulgaria, Romania, Slovenia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia was a reminder of Europe’s growing doubts about China.
Many central and east European leaders are feeling let down by Beijing’s failure to deliver on promises. For one, China has failed to open up its market to their farm produce. Some BRI projects, such as a highway in Montenegro, have seen its debt level rise steeply.
The backlash is spreading to western Europe. The European Parliament is questioning the investment agreement signed with China some months ago and ratification is looking doubtful. The EU is shutting China out of its Horizon Europe programme which aims to increase the continent’s spending on science by billions of Euros. New guidelines will limit foreign interference in European universities and there are also moves against Huawei.