Poland, the largest market in a region where the PRC’s interests are meeting increasing resistance, is an important area of operations of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) main business-focused influence agency. The China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), controlled by the PRC Ministry of Commerce, has obtained considerable support from Poland’s national and local government agencies. In addition to running its own Polish chamber of commerce, CCPIT maintains relations with Polish government officials and business circles, including a business association whose members employ around one-third of Poland’s workforce. Information and capability asymmetry and Polish lack of expertise allow CCPIT to forge and exploit unequal relationships that advance the Chinese government’s economic and geopolitical goals. Building economic relations with China in cooperation with this CCP-controlled organ disproportionately benefits the Chinese side. After years of extensive cooperation with CCPIT, PRC-state conglomerates and other state-supported companies have won multiple infrastructure contracts, railway connections with China have greatly developed and Chinese exports have massively increased. At the same time Polish exports to China have remained relatively low, the trade deficit has ballooned and Chinese investments in areas desirable by the Polish authorities are scarce.
Lured by investment and export opportunities, local Polish authorities, business associations and companies often seek relations with Chinese partners regardless of their goals and position in the Chinese political system. CCPIT and its partner agencies have established valuable channels through which they can influence the views of Poland’s business elite. Oblivious to CCPIT’s true nature and agenda, Polish decision makers and business leaders are allowing it to shape the economic relationship, at times actively helping it promote CCP propaganda narratives. CCPIT and other party-state organizations operating in the economic sphere apply a multipronged approach, also maintaining relations with small and medium businesses and local Polish authorities. CCPIT is a seemingly convenient partner for small Polish consulting firms and local authorities, as it offers access to a network of state-controlled companies and local Chinese officials. Working with CCPIT cuts the costs of building a network from scratch but usually does not bring tangible results for the Polish side. Small-scale organizations established by Chinese nationals in Poland also tend to seek patronage and support from party-state organs in China even though having Chinese on board should allow them to work outside the CCP-sponsored framework.
Partnerships with CCPIT and other CCP influence agencies have a harmful impact on Poland’s interests and the shape of economic relations with China. To undo this harm, Polish government agencies, especially trade-promotion bodies, should limit their reliance on CCPIT and other party-state actors and proactively extend their networks in China beyond those that include organizations focused on the implementation of the CCP’s political goals. When formal contacts with organs like CCPIT are necessary, Polish partners should understand the political background of such bodies, critically analyzing any information provided by them instead of absorbing and disseminating party propaganda. Polish business associations and other non-government actors should generally avoid cooperation with CCPIT and other CCP-controlled agencies, instead seeking out and supporting direct contacts with potential business partners in China through business-oriented, industry-specific platforms.
The access this CCP influence agency has obtained to Central and Eastern Europe’s largest economy has been overlooked by local and international analysts and the media. The modus operandi this paper describes resembles known cases elsewhere in Europe and the world. The findings presented here thus point to a global phenomenon.