China’s New Silk Roads. Categorising and Grouping the World: Beijing’s 16+1+X European Formula

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Abstract

In autumn 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping presented his Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe play an important role in this ambitious infrastructure and connectivity project. The analysis of the 16+1 cooperation format, established by Beijing in 2012, shows that Beijing is able to establish new regional groupings that have the potential to undermine the unity of a larger regional bloc. Yet, it also demonstrates that China lacks a coherent BRI master plan. Rather, it pragmatically adapts its strategies to challenges and external criticism. The European Union (EU), notably the European Parliament (EP), became since 2015 more critical of the strategic impacts of BRI on Europe. Austria, which recognised the economic opportunities offered by BRI only recently, supports a common EU position. While Austria plays a strong-if not a leading-role in two Central and Eastern European cooperation mechanisms that may in the future also address BRI, that is, the Salzburg Forum and the Central European Defense Cooperation (CEDC), 16+1 remains the key institution for multi- and bilateral agreements on the New Silk Roads in this region. Austria, however, will remain only an observer and thus an ‘X’ in the 16+1+X format, reducing Vienna’s influence.

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