The Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries forum has recently encountered protests from Latvia and Estonia. As if it were a joint decision, both countries announced the termination of their participation in the platform. 

The move appears to be a new blow to China’s increasingly assertive diplomacy.

According to U.S.-based TIME, representatives from Latvia and Estonia declared that they left the forum, citing several reasons.

Latvia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement on August 11.

The ministry declared: “In view of the current priorities of Latvian foreign and trade policy, Latvia has decided to cease its participation in the cooperation framework of Central and Eastern European Countries and China.”

It said that Latvia would continue to strive for constructive and pragmatic relations with China both bilaterally and through EU-China cooperation based on mutual benefit, respect for international law, human rights, and the international rules-based order.

In a similar statement, Estonia said that the country will “continue to work towards constructive and pragmatic relations with China, which includes advancing EU-China relations in line with the rules-based international order and values such as human rights.”

Estonia said that it participated in the cooperation format of Central and Eastern Europe and China since 2012. It has not attended any of the meetings after the summit last February.

According to TIME, Latvia and Estonia dealt a blow to the communist regime after China refused to criticize Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. Moscow’s move is seen as a possible first step in a series of threats against former member countries of the Soviet Union.

In addition, China has condemned the West’s economic sanctions imposed on Russia.

Before the invasion, the Chinese and Russian leaders announced a “no limits” partnership in February.

Latvia and Estonia were also responding to China after Beijing launched economic and diplomatic retaliation against Lithuania, another Baltic state. Lithuania expanded ties with self-governed Taiwan.

China claims Taiwan as its own territory and has recently conducted a series of military drills around the island after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan earlier in July. Not only Latvia and Estonia, but other countries have also criticized China following its increasing assertiveness against Taiwan.

China holds the forum to boost relations with the E.U. members, Serbia, and others, partly to further its Belt and Road Initiative to build bridges, railways, and other infrastructure projects across the Eurasian continent.

However, critics claim the communist regime designed the forum to exploit differences among those states. It is a part of China’s campaign to join Russia in undermining the current rules-based international order dominated by the U.S. and its allies.

In its response, U.S. State Department said that it respects and supports Estonia and Latvia’s decisions not to participate in the forum.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters that Estonia and Latvia are important and valued NATO allies and key U.S. partners across a number of issues.

Patel said: “Over the past year, we’ve seen countries around the world express deep concern about the PRC’s strategic alignment with Russia as well as Beijing’s support for Moscow’s war against Ukraine.”

He added: “There is a growing convergence about the need to approach relations with Beijing with more realism.”

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