IEEM conference | China is ambiguous in ‘what it wants to do in the world’


Luis Sales Marques and Andrzej Olechowski

Asia is a geopolitical challenge, with China “becoming more assertive, and evermore powerful, ” according to the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Andrzej Olechowski.
Speaking on the sidelines of a conference dinner organized by the Institute of European Studies of Macau (IEEM) and concerning the European Union’s new challenges, Mr Olechowski believes China is particularly ambiguous in “what it wants to do in the world,” having recently added to rising tensions between its neighbors.
The European Union (EU) faces a constant set of challenges related to growth, unemployment, immigration and climate change. Yet its greatest challenge today remains a geopolitical one, said the former minister, since tensions between Russia and Ukraine have escalated unexpectedly.
Mr Olechowski stressed that “Russia’s assertive attitude and unclear plans [in relation to Ukraine]… is [a matter] very difficult to tackle because European integration is about opening borders, and not about building walls.”
He believes the EU has so far tackled Ukraine-Russia tensions well, although many have raised doubts about whether their response was quick enough. The Polish politician thinks it is quite hard for various European countries to unite on such an issue: “[when it comes to Russia] everybody has its own point of view, and these views are often diverging, while interests from different parties might also be divergent.”
Mr Olechowski also recalled that countries, such as Germany, acted wisely and in a determined way. “What we have done until now is good, but there’s a number of things we could have done in the past, not to build such a wall. [We should] encourage Russia to reflect upon a few matters, as there are plenty to reflect upon,” he stressed.
EU sanctions that have since been applied to Russia, he said, are working: “Russia is not such a strong power, neither economically or politically, so I think they have to come to their senses, and choose cooperation over confrontation.”
Under the European Commission’s new leadership, Andrzej Olechowski sees experienced politicians, such as Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, recently elected as president of the Commission, as someone capable of handling this matter well.
Andrzej Olechowski visited Macau three years ago, and back then many political commentators were assertive when stating that the European Union would fall apart due to a severe financial crisis, which affected some of its members more deeply than others. However, he was not inclined to believe in such an ominous forecast.
Today, in contrast, he sometimes worries that the European Union might not have “enough stamina and determination” to cope with the possibility of having two competing blocs in Europe: a European one, and a Russian one.
“If there was belligerent competition, we would win, because we are much stronger politically and economically than Russia. But there’s no doubt that it would bring damage to the continent,” he said.
As a former Soviet republic, Ukraine’s public opinion has often been divided into two camps: those who support an alignment with European Union countries, and those who would prefer to continue developing ties with Moscow.
Former president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych began negotiating a trade deal with the European Union in 2012, but in November last year, he unexpectedly pulled out of it. Many protestors took to the streets of Ukraine, and Mr Yanukovych fled the country. Tensions have escalated since then, particularly after Russian troops occupied the southern province of Crimea.
When it comes to the EU’s external relations, he said that we should focus on the current open system, based on competition.
The conference dinner on European Union’s current challenges took place at the Institute for Tourism Studies’ education restaurant earlier this week.
Andrzej Olechowski currently holds positions as chairman of the supervisory board of Bank Handlowy, and director of Euronet. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs (1993-1995) and Minister of Finance (1992), in his native Poland.

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