LONDON: The Chinese seem pushed into the rear foot on pretty much every front today. Away in the exact observable US ban on TikTok and WeChat, China has been siphoned right into scaling down its aspirations directly across Central and Eastern Europe, an area that’s essential to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.There are clear indicators that the 17 Eastern and Central European nations are cooling towards China, Emilian Kavalski, professor at China-Eurasia Relations and global Studies in the University of Nottingham informs CNBC-TV18. “One clear example is that the annual summit that China has with the CEE countries has not taken place and very likely will not take place.”The official motive, he states, is that the pandemic, but a number of those nations have pushed for a few internet summit . “The unofficial reason is that most CEE countries do not want to have the summit before the EU-China summit which was scheduled for September, and now has been postponed indefinitely,” states Prof Kavalski.Many of those countries are also members of the European Union (EU), and also therefore are very likely to take their cue from the EU, Prof Kavalski states. “Increasingly East European countries are becoming more aligned and waiting for Brussels to find a common strategy and policy towards China. Once the policy is formulated, those countries are very much going to fall in line and follow that strategy.”The CEE bloc includes nations including Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic, and also nations like Hungary and Serbia who are more enthusiastic on China than others, and also to some extent still are. The bloc comprises crucially Greece which combined late last year. The Piraeus port in Athens was broadly, and quickly, developed by China to ship goods to Western Europe as a very important outlet in its own Belt and Road Initiative.Criticism, maybe not InvestmentThat initiative has been launched aggressively within this area in 2012. “Most of these countries were never very keen on China, though many among them were curious,” Kavalski says. “Like many countries they wanted to profit from the economic bonanza promised by Chinese investments, and from access to Chinese markets.”The summits brought small investment.“A lot of countries were interested in Chinese investment, and this investment, unfortunately both for them and for China did not materialise,” states Kavalski. “So the Czech President announced publicly that he won’t be taking part in this year’s summit planned for April because of lack of investment,” Kavalski says. “While there has been an increase in investment, there hasn’t been a strategically significant investment. Many of the projects were on the drawing board before the current cooling off.”Rather than investment, Kavalski claims the CEE nations have obtained criticism, largely from Brussels and Washington. “And EU member states are still the main investors.”The complaint is now starting to bite. “The technological cold war between China and the US is already having repercussions. Washington has been putting pressure on CEE countries to ban Huawei and Chinese technological companies from participating in 5G networks. So countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Estonia have already indicated that they will ban Huawei.”The CEE is currently emerging as “a playground for the technological cold war emerging between China and the US,” Kavalski says. Latvia has been the first of those countries to declare China a threat to its domestic security.SetbackThe setback to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure improvement program where China has put a direct role for itself about 70 nations and global organisations, goes beyond the CEE itself, states Kavalski. The program envisages an economical belt throughout Central Asia to Europe. Additionally, the marine Silk Road throughout the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean want to maneuver through CEE. “So it is significant for China for being at the crossroads.”The importance, Kavalski states, increased following the Chinese firm COSCO obtained Piraeus port in Athens. “It quickly became the second-largest container ship port in Europe (after Rotterdam). Goods to Europe from Piraeus need to go through Eastern Europe.” this future of the Belt and Road Initiative, he states, “will depend on how China’s interest in CEE nations will develop.”The pandemic, as well as the financial pressures it’s attracted, will set back China’s strategies for the area, states Kavalski. “It’s likely that as a result of the pandemic and a need to relocate strategic resources domestically in China, the future of the Belt and Road Initiative will be much more lean and narrow in scope than it was till 2020.” China, he states, “needs to revive its economy, and there’s also a lot of domestic pressure and criticism over splurging money overseas.”The virus, Prof Kavalski wrote previously at The Conversation, has just hastened the social connection between the CEE and China.