How many things can change in a year.

Considering itself victorious in terms of managing the pandemic within its borders, China has achieved geopolitical victories by signing massive trade agreements with the European Union in December 2020, which sent a strong message to the then-incoming administration of the president. American, Joe Biden.

But 2021 has other plans in store for Beijing.

The investment deal has been sidelined by a wave of sanctions that China and the EU have imposed on each other over Beijing's abuses of Uighurs and other minorities in the western province of Xinjiang.

Since then, Taiwan has improved ties with Europe.

As a result, Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu toured several Central European countries in October.

Lithuania, a small Baltic country with a population of 2.7 million, has also been at the center of the Sino-European connection.

The country withdrew from a Beijing-led diplomatic format in February and has since expanded ties with Taipei.

Beijing has responded with propaganda, economic sanctions and diplomatic disputes that prompted Vilnius to oust the embassy from Beijing on December 15.

While Europe still does not have a clear plan on how to act against China, the developments of 2021 have strengthened the attitudes of European officials and governments to demand a tougher approach to Beijing.

This whole episode represents a host of diplomatic opportunities and strategic mistakes that have defined Chinese policy from Central Europe to South Asia throughout 2021.

In 2022, China is expected to continue targets to increase influence in Eurasia.

Tensions between Russia and the West have helped create even warmer relations between the Kremlin and Beijing, and the chaotic withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, which has resulted in the return of the Taliban to power, has opened the door to opportunity, but even for risks at the same time.

The year 2022 is also expected to bring significant developments in China's modern history, as President Xi Jinping is expected to end his term and lead alone, without restrictions.

Although a host of developments are on the horizon, here are five things to look for as China deepens its influence in Eurasia.

China's scope in the field of security

Concerns about border security, extremist groups and the security of Chinese personnel in Central and South Asia have risen in 2021, following the Taliban take power in Afghanistan and several attacks on Chinese workers in Pakistan.

Beijing has long been concerned about terrorism in that region, especially Uighur extremist groups, and has established security relations with all its neighbors - from Central Asian governments to the Taliban - which link its internal apparatus. China's security with foreign counterparts.

"So far (Beijing) has shown that national security issues are closely linked to things it fears could have a direct impact on China," Raffaello Pantucci, a senior researcher at the Royal Institute for Services, told Radio Free Europe. United, based in London.

Many of these collaborations have continued to grow in 2021.

In October, it was announced that China would fund and build a police base in Tajikistan for Tajik personnel, and a Free Radio Europe study found that the Chinese presence at the base, as well as on the Afghan-Tajik border, continued. to grow, as Chinese personnel also patrol in the area.

"China has shown that it wants to focus on building relationships (with local governments) to address security concerns," Pantucci said.

"The big question is whether the over-targeting of Chinese interests makes Beijing think there should be another kind of presence in these areas."

Meanwhile, current links are expected to expand in the area of ​​law enforcement and security agencies by 2022.

Beijing continues to invest in training in several neighboring countries, and China has reportedly signed 59 extradition treaties with foreign countries in recent years.

A new era for Beijing and Moscow?

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed their close ties on December 15, during a 90-minute virtual conversation in which they attempted to show a common front at a time of growing Western pressure on both countries.

Moscow and Beijing are not officially allies, but during the conversation, Putin said that "the new model of cooperation between our countries is based on the principle of non-interference in internal affairs and respect for each other's interests," while Xi has thanked his counterpart for "strong support for China's efforts to protect international interests".

Their ties deepen even more, as do their differences with the United States.

Russia and China have even conducted joint military exercises and offered each other support on a number of issues.

Putin has criticized the AUKUS pact (signed by Australia, the United States and Britain) while Xi has backed Moscow's demand for guarantees that the West will limit its influence around the countries of the former Soviet Union.

"They seem to be getting closer and closer to each other, and although they do not want to formalize an alliance, they are willing to help the other side in matters that do not directly affect them," Pantucci said.

It remains to be seen how strong this agreement will be, especially at a time when Russia is anxious to see China expand its security and political space in Central Asia.

But as tensions are only expected to rise with the West in 2022, Putin and Xi are expected to rely on each other even more in the future.

"We are seeing the transformation of the relationship in real time," Pantucci said.

"We need to update the way we think, as this dynamic continues to change and potentially become more sustainable."

Perfecting the Belt and Road Initiative

In less than 10 years, the Belt and Road Initiative has positioned China at the center of the international system through new bridges and railways, fiber optic cables and 5G networks, followed by pipelines and ports that have helped increase financial impact. Beijing technology and politics through hundreds of billions of dollars in investment projects from Latin America to Southeast Asia.

But the project has also been marred by troubles, including debt concerns related to Chinese projects, then suspicions of corruption, poor construction, ill-treatment of workers and neglect of the environment.

Investment levels have dropped significantly since 2016 and the Belt and Road Initiative has begun to focus on new areas, including arts and culture, electronic payment systems and satellites.

This has paved the way for other competitive initiatives from Japan, the United States and the European Union.

"In terms of design, the project looks abstract and vague.

"Every Chinese entrepreneur has been able to create a project that could later become part of the Belt and Road Initiative," Niva Yau, senior researcher at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) academy, told Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. ) in Bishkek.

"We should not think of it as a single thing, as it is something that is constantly changing and has to do with China, which is increasing its influence in all aspects globally."

In 2022 this important project for the Chinese president is expected to continue to grow and Yau said he has already begun to expand through medical aid, the export of Chinese culture and the creation of local jobs, rather than victory at the level of political elites.

"The Belt and Street Initiative is targeting the public more and more.

"Of course, this is not always effective, but it does not matter much for now," she said.

"If they continue to invest in soft power, it will pay off."

"War wolves" will continue to be active

As the Belt and Road Initiative continues to expand into new areas in order to increase China's influence, Beijing will face negative views about the Chinese state, which has tarnished its image in recent years.

A survey conducted by the Pew Institute in June, mainly in Western countries, found that unfavorable views on China have reached extremely high levels, as only in Greece and Singapore, the majority of respondents have expressed views of good for China's policies.

"It is undeniable that China's image is not in good shape and it does not look like it will be stable for a while," Charles Dunst, a researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Radio Free Europe.

China's coronavirus diplomacy, which has scored some small victories at the start of the pandemic in countries like Serbia and Italy, has faded for some time now.

The so-called "war wolves" of diplomacy, who have adopted an aggressive style of targeting governments, companies and individuals who have criticized China, will continue to be active through threats to stop aid or access to vaccines.

If anyone has spread misinformation about the origin of the coronavirus, Beijing has responded with restrictions and tariffs.

In Australia, for example, China has cracked down on some of its key exports, with Canberra seeking to investigate the origin of the coronavirus.

"Countries around the world are concerned about Beijing's willingness to establish economic relations for political purposes," he said.

"We will hardly see a change in China's approach in 2022, given President Xi's goals for Chinese foreign policy and nationalism."

Restrictions on trade due to pandemic

China is one of the only countries in the world that continues to implement the "zero cases of coronavirus" strategy, and occasionally closes everything if a single case of infection is reported.

Now with the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, this strategy will find application again.

This is bad news for some Central Asian countries, which depend on cross-border trade with China.

"China and Central Asia will face many difficulties in trade relations, not only in 2022 but also in the future, depending on the direction of the pandemic," Temur Umarov, a China expert at the Center, told Radio Free Europe. Carnegie in Moscow.

Much of China's trade with the region is focused on natural resources, especially oil and gas, but pressure on trade in goods and restrictions on the pandemic have mixed the situation with political elements.

The Kyrgyz government has said that restoring trade to pre-pandemic levels is a matter of priority and officials from Bishkek have held talks with Chinese counterparts and some have even proposed new systems, in line with Chinese pandemic regulations.

As new variants of the coronavirus continue to proliferate, Umarov has said the new approaches are the only option for local governments to negotiate at the table.

"Obviously this will anger Central Asia," he said, "but at the same time, they need China economically and therefore they need to take action and negotiate what they can do about border traffic." ”.

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