Sino-Polish Relations: Ups and Downs

Chinese media actively pushes an idea of Sino-Polish bipartisan relations. Poland was among the first countries that recognized Communist China in 1949. A few months ago, Chinese mask diplomacy covered Polish territory. On March 31, the Chinese plane landed in Warsaw, carrying protective gear for Polish medical services. Official Beijing provided 10,000 COVID 19 test kits, 20,000 respirators, and other essential protective materials needed in the fight against the coronavirus. Gratefulness of Polish Foreign Minister- Jacek Czaputowicz became viral within the polish political elite. In addition, Michał Dworczyk – head of the Polish Prime Minister’s Office- suggested an idea of creating an air bridge between two countries. Inevitably, Sino-Polish future relationships will directly affect overall regional balance. The aim of the article is to describe two countries’ relations in several dimensions.

Political relations

Despite the fact, that Poland and China established diplomatic relations in 1919, they did not enjoy a strong relationship. Omnipresent corruption, internal hurdles, Japanese aggression let the Communist revolution within China, while Poland lost sovereignty and became part of the Eastern Bloc just two years before Mao seized power. It should be noted, that Polish recognition of the People Republic of China was a diplomatic gesture, which sprang from the Soviets elite’s desire to support worldwide Communism. However, historical records provide us with ample evidence, when Polish leaders resisted over the Soviet Union’s aggressive policy against China. The 1960s marked as Sino-Soviet split. Needless to say, that relations between two countries became hostile. Khrushchev’s initiatives such as granting membership of the Warsaw Pact to Mongolia, signing the non-proliferation treaty, and organizing world communist conferences were directed against the PRC. Despite an economic pressure, Khrushchev could not gain Gomulka’s tacit approval and eventually was forced to redesign his initial plans. It should be noted that, Sino-Polish relations did not exceed far away from the exchange of diplomatic gestures. Furthermore, relations deteriorated as Poland gained independence in 1991. The Polish elite became increasingly hostile towards China, mainly after the Tiananmen massacre. On the other hand, China regarded political changes within Eastern Europe as a dangerous precedent. Tensions somehow cooled after the presidential visit of Aleksander Kwaśniewski in 1997.  Poland expressed tacit support towards the “One China” principle, subsequently followed by establishing the Polish-Chinese Parliamentary group. Since 2000, official visits between the two countries have intensified. Direct contacts have been established between Polish and Chinese cities. Now it accounts for 23 bilateral agreements, while 7 out of them are related to provinces-provinces ties. 

Economic Relations

Sino- Polish economic relations should be evaluated through the different time frame. While we can see a kind of low economic activity between the two countries, the trend has been transformed as Poland joined the EU. Chinese President Hu’s visit in 2004 resulted in several agreements. Most notably, parties agreed to deepen relations within the copper mining industry. A pertinent example of accelerated development and such understandings can be easily traced 2 years ago, when during the China International Import Expo2018, the Polish copper mining giant signed a contract for up to EUR 3.5 bn. It is important to note that increased trade volume have begotten trade deficit, which still remains a problem for Poland.  In addition, for the late 2000s, it was approximately 14,000 Chinese companies operating in Poland, while on the contrary, we had 1100 Polish companies in China. While imports soared four times, exports to China increased five times. Such a pattern reflects wider reality. Even though the Polish economic relation strategy orientated on reducing the enormous gap between exports and imports, current economic dynamics make it less like possible.

China deems Poland as a Gateway to Europe and tries to deepen economic ties not only on a bilateral level, but through the multilateral framework. The 16+1 platform was established in 2012, after Chinese premier visited Poland and met with leaders and high-level representatives of 16 CEE countries. (Note that, it is now called 17+1 since Greece has joined the forum) Consequently, the multilateral framework institutionalized an annual meeting of the Heads of the State, regular meetings on the ministerial and sub-ministerial level.  Moreover, an increasing number of exchange mechanisms covered areas such as agriculture, education, research, and media. However, such initiatives were not met without hesitation. Not surprisingly, the EU called China to reconsider such platforms, as it undermines the European integration process. Even CEE countries are dubbed as trojan horses and China was called systemic of the EU by official proclamation of the European Commission.

Apart from the 17+1 framework, China and Poland can coordinate with each other through V4. The group of V4 has already developed a platform such as V4+Japan and V4+South Korea. It can become an alternative to 17+1 and has a great potential to ease EU-China tensions. There have already been meetings when representatives of the V4 countries were hosted by Chinese foreign minister in 20015 and 2018. However, the possibility of the V4+China platform still lays on the table.

Considering bilateral ties, Sino-Polish relations have gradually deepened, if we look into recent activities. Agreement on a strategic partnership that was signed in 2011 signaled of embarking a new era between two countries’ relations. Presidential visit by Xi Jinping followed by signing 40 deals and memoranda of understanding. Andrzej Duda and XI attended the arrival of a Chinese cargo train in Warsaw, which features a symbolic connection between China and Europe. As Krszysztof Szczerski remarked: “Poland wants to be the key partner for China in the region.” It should be noted that Poland is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Furthermore, the Polish geographical location puts it in an advantageous position if we take into account such a project as One Belt One Road. Countries have already signed a memorandum of understanding about the BRI. China remains to be Poland’s second-largest source of imports following Germany. According to statistics exports to China surged by 35.5 percent, while imports rose by 13.4 percent.

However, the future of Sino-Polish relations remains nebulous. Chinese former envoy in Poland was arrested last year under allegations of spying for China. According to Polish security services, individual actions were not linked directly to Huawei. Andrzej Duda called case as unequivocal. While Duda was asked if the U.S. has provided Poland with evidence of China ever spying using Huawei technology he did not answer negatively. Furthermore, Vice president Mike Pence and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki signed an agreement to cooperate on 5G technology. Undoubtedly, the U.S. will remain the most important ally, but the best choice for Poland is a tactical maneuver between two countries: on the one hand to check security threat by American forces, while on the other, not worsening economic ties with China, which would be like killing the goose that lays the golden egg. The key to the Polish prosperity lays in a solution to such  dilemma.

Shota Mgeladze Research Fellow

The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Tbilisi or The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland.

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