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International Relations

China encircling Eastern Europe, warns former Polish leader Walesa

Beijing and West vie to set new rules for globalization

A worker walks through the construction site of a railway line between Budapest and Belgrade, a project financed mainly by China.    © Getty Images

GDANSK, Poland -- Beijing's extensive investment in Central and Eastern Europe under its Belt and Road Initiative is creating a growing sense of unease in the region.

"China is trying to encircle various countries in its sphere of interest," according to former Polish President Lech Walesa, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 for his leadership of the country's pro-democracy movement.

During a recent interview with the Nikkei Asian Review, Walesa warned against Beijing's attempts to expand its influence by investing in Central and Eastern Europe. "China does things thoroughly and is further reinforcing its influence on many countries," he said.

The world is going through a period of profound change, and is in search of a new set of rules that will govern globalization, according to the Nobel laureate. "At stake is whether the rules will be based on West European ideas or Chinese."

Walesa co-founded and headed the Solidarity independent labor union, which led the pro-democracy movement in communist Poland during the 1980s and was instrumental in the country's nonviolent transition to democracy.

Globalization based on technological innovation broke down national boundaries and led to the integration of Europe, the democratization of the former Soviet bloc and German reunification.

Yet, that process remains unfinished, he said. "The world is still on the way to innovative change," and "an era of discussions" is underway, which seeks a new world order that facilitates globalization.

However, the one-time electrician insisted that Beijing was a crucial actor in the process. While China had a set of values and a political system that differs greatly from the U.S. and Europe, he argued, "globalization in the real sense of the word is impossible without China's participation."

Walesa Former Polish President Lech Walesa warned that China was working to enclose Central and East European countries in its sphere of influence.

Walesa also called on Western countries to unite in their negotiations with Beijing, saying the world is waiting to see whether "the U.S. and Europe will teach their values to China, or China will absorb Europe."

Time may be running out in that regard. The recent rift between the U.S. and Europe will only play into China's hands.

Whichever situation plays out, globalization will carry on regardless. "It should be easier for China to understand the values of the U.S. and Europe and join the world led by them," Walesa said.

The Nobel laureate also referred to the emergence of populist movements throughout the world, pointing to the election of U.S. President Donald Trump and the far-right parties that now form part of new governments in Italy and Austria.

While he acknowledged the need for change, he insisted it should be based on democracy and reject the tyranny of communism and fascism.

The emergence of politicians like Trump has led to questions over the roles of bodies like the United Nations and NATO, but this situation should be looked at as an opportunity "to discuss the formation of a new world," he said.

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