In recent years, the Visegrad Group countries- Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – have been more actively developing the global dimension of their foreign policy. The V4 capitals have made considerable progress in enhancing their trade as well as diplomatic relations with Brazil, India, China and South Africa (BICS). Yet, despite the progress they have made over the last decade, there is still untapped potential.
The report V4 Goes Global: Exploring Opportunities and Obstacles in the Visegrad Countries` Cooperation with Brazil, India, China and South Africa examines the V4 capitals` cooperation with BICS in three dimension: political, economic and people-to-people. The report was developed within the framework of the project „V4 Goes Global: Exploring opportunities in V4 cooperation with BASIC emerging powers” supported by the International Visegrad Fund. Russia, which is often associated with the BICS countries in the better known group BRICS, is not included in the report due to the specific dynamics in V4-Russia relations.
On 31 March CEPI organized a roundtable to present the major findings of the publication V4 Goes Global: Exploring Opportunities and Obstacles in the Visegrad Countries` Cooperation with Brazil, India, China and South Africa. Milan Nič (Central European Policy Institute), Marián Majer (Slovak Security Policy Institute) and Peter Brezáni (Slovak Foreign Policy Association) discussed the current state of play of the BICS-V4 relations and challenges in cultivating relations with global emerging powers. The participants included ambassadors, diplomats, NGO representatives as well as Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the SR officials.
China, the most important BICS partner to V4, dominated the debate. The V4`s exchange with BICS is mostly below the average share of extra EU28 trade, with the exception of China. People-to-people ties and political dialogue are also underdeveloped, while BICS countries other than China show little interest and do not regard Central Europe as strategic region. Hungary was first to discover the potential of cooperation with China, and has devoted extra political effort and economic resources to reinvigorate these relations. Slovakia seems to be the least active in political dialogue but is working to catch up with its regional peers and attracts the largest FDI share from China.
There is very little strategic content in the relations, which are predominantly governed by economic considerations. Brezáni said that the V4 needs to find a common strategy towards China, especially in the areas where the V4 countries do not see competing interests. “We need something that would go beyond the short-term economic interest,” Brezáni commented. He also emphasized the need to speak one voice within the 16+1, the format developed by China as a foreign policy instrument in cooperation with Central Europe, to strengthen the V4`s position vis-à-vis the country. The Chinese ambassador to Slovakia, Lin Lin, underlined the positive role of the 16+1 format in strengthening the V4+China relations. He also noted that the combined GDP size of the V4 countries puts the group at the core of the 16+1 format.
The Polish, Hungarian, Czech and Slovak diplomacies have not used the V4 format as a tool for cooperation with BICS. They have never produced a joint statement on relations with any BICS countries and do not use their position in the EU to design policy towards these powers. The V4 countries share several similarities when pursuing closer cooperation with BICS. On one hand, there is growing economic interest and stronger political opening in V4 capitals for developing closer partnerships with BICS powers. On the other hand, the Visegrad members face challenges due to their weaker political and economic potential. These perils are further underpinned by modest resources and limited knowledge and understanding of BICS countries. As a result, the BICS countries have not seen the added-value of the Visegrad Group compared to bilateral relations with each of its members
To overcome these challenges, Majer outlined the following recommendations in V4 cooperation with BICS:
- Discussion on cooperation with BICS should be included in V4 presidency programmes. Regular consultations could facilitate the adoption of a strategic V4 approach towards BICS.
- The Visegrad Group should emulate the V4+ mechanism in enhancing cooperation with BICS.
- Promote the Visegrad region as an attractive FDI destination through joint promotional campaigns, trade missions, V4 chambers of commerce, etc.
- Encourage V4 companies to form consortia and clusters to bid for contracts and projects in BICS countries.
Please see the full report for further recommendations.
At the same time, it is important not to overestimate the V4`s role in relations with BICS and not to be overly ambitious. The Visegrad Group is not a magic solutions for stronger ties with major emerging powers. Thus far, the existing V4+ mechanism in relations with other non-European partners has yielded few tangible benefits. Therefore, the V4+ format should not be seen as a substitute for bilateral relations between V4 countries and their BICS partners.