At Transitions Online, Martin Ehl writes about how central European disinterest in the Dalai Lama maps onto an increasingly pragmatic pursuit of Chinese investment.
In this way, the October visit of the Dalai Lama – who was the main star of the 20th edition of the Forum 2000 conference, founded by late President Vaclav Havel – was also a test of Havel’s legacy in the former Czechoslovakia. That humanitarian approach is today confined to almost hidden corners of the local political scene, only revived from time to time by small groups, usually consisting of NGO activists, and lately by Kiska. In mainstream politics, it gets almost completely forgotten.
Lastly, the episode illustrates in broader strokes the emerging relationship between Central Europe and China. For the last couple of years, China has crafted its policy toward Europe, and the weak and often Eurosceptic Central European governments have seemed an ideal gateway for Chinese money and political influence. China could thereby reach the wider European Union, which, due to the refugee crisis and Brexit, looks weaker than ever in the last 20 years.
The job, however, isn’t easy for Chinese diplomats in Prague, Bratislava, or Warsaw (the Dalai Lama also briefly visited Wroclaw, without meeting any government official there). They have to exert maximum effort, show off their supposed powers to influence investment, and gain leverage over local politicians. But the real work in leaning on the locals is done by the businessmen who have cultivated business and political ties in China as relations have warmed. That’s not so tough when the United States, a traditional ally, seems so far off, the EU looks to be in disarray, and Russia plays old, familiar Soviet power games.