On European Tour, Xi Jinping Heads to Friendly Territory in the East

By John Mercury May 9, 2024

When China’s leader, Xi Jinping, last visited Europe’s formerly Communist east in 2016, the president of the Czech Republic hosted him for a flag-bedecked, three-day state visit and offered his country as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” for Chinese investment.

That vessel has since sunk, scuppered by China’s support for Russia in the war in Ukraine and bitter disappointment over projects that never materialized. Also capsized are many of the high hopes that took hold across Eastern and Central Europe for a bonanza of Chinese money.

So when Mr. Xi returned to the region this week, after a visit to France, he headed for Serbia, arriving there late Tuesday before moving on later in the week to Hungary — two countries whose long-serving authoritarian leaders still offer a haven for China in increasingly turbulent political and economic waters.

“The Czechs, the Poles and nearly everyone else are really pissed at China because of the war,” said Tamas Matura, a foreign relations scholar at Corvinus University of Budapest. “But in Hungary that is not a problem, at least not for the government” of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Mr. Matura said.

Nor is China’s Kremlin-friendly stand on the war in Ukraine a problem for President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia, who, like Mr. Orban, has maintained warm relations with Russia and China while securing billions of dollars in Chinese investment.

In an interview this week with Chinese state television, Mr. Vucic gave a foretaste of the flattery that will dominate Mr. Xi’s visit: “There are thousands of things that we can and should learn from our Chinese friends,” the Serbian president said.

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