Where are the first Beijing’s steps?
It all has started with Chinese infrastructure loans, presented in the Western Balkans as investments of the People’s Republic of China. Then they went a step further, investing in important plants in the Western Balkans, not only important for economic development, but also for the energy sustainability of countries, and thus their economies. Then the story spread to the 17 + 1 initiative, which was first enthusiastically accepted on the European continent, and then European “players” realized that Beijing’s interests are slightly higher than economic ones. And so we came to the point where the Chinese in the Western Balkans have become traditional partners, and even brothers. And so a circle of dependence was created, but not according to the model of interdependence, but exclusively dependence on the part of Beijing. For fast credit tranches, for fast infrastructure investments and realizations, for investments of large sums of money in domestic economies in the countries of the region, and even to information technology and health care – which are perhaps the key challenges for modern humanity.
The EU is watching, Washington is protesting, but no one is reacting
This Chinese, quiet, supposedly economic campaign was closely followed by both Washington and Brussels, but without a precise understanding of China’s long-term policy. When the 17 + 1 initiative appeared, Brussels, in a way, accepted it with enthusiasm. Thinking that this will reduce the investment burden in Eastern Europe and that Beijing will play the role of an investor in that part of Europe, and thus relax the powerful Western European economies. On the other hand, Washington was more concerned, yet they are pursuing a longer and more strategically predictable policy, but they also missed the opportunity to understand China’s “big” game within Europe’s borders. Because Beijing has already entered enough within the Western Balkans and within the countries of the European Union from the so-called eastern wing. Both Brussels and Washington naively understood China’s policy in the Western Balkans, thinking that it was primarily an attempt by Beijing to enter the big European market through the “small” doors, through the countries in the Western Balkans that are in the process of accession. However, in all this, Beijing was a few steps ahead. Because it has already indebted many of his small partners in the Western Balkans, and thus directly conditioned their path to the EU. Which at the moment doesn’t seem so terrible. Bearing in mind how far the countries of this region are from the doors of the EU. But if Brussels is indeed principled in the future and calls on the region for full European integration, then the “spirits” of Beijing will certainly come to the surface Because then many questions will be opened, such as what is true of European standards in the economy in which Chinese investments have a large share in the Western Balkans today. Or how the 5G Chinese network, which is very desirable in the Western Balkans today, will work, while the EU is trying in every possible way to ban the network and exclude it from the European market. And so on, but one thing is for sure, Beijing is laying its deep strategic foundations within the Western Balkans, perhaps not to the detriment of this region, but certainly to the detriment of European integration, and therefore the EU, which is increasingly losing its primacy in these countries.
Where to go next with Beijing, how interested is it in political and security trends in the Western Balkans?
Today, it seems that the People’s Republic of China has no special interest in political and security developments in the Western Balkans. But they also have a clear position on certain issues. While Pristina’s self-proclaimed independence is a done thing for Brussels and Washington, Beijing, along with Moscow, has publicly emphasized that it respects Serbia’s territorial sovereignty, including Kosovo and Metohija as an integral part of it. And observed throughout history, while we can expect flexibility from Moscow on this issue, if it suits their national interests, it is difficult that China, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, will so easily accept certain Western demands, because foreign policy of Beijing is far from the “market” ones that Washington and Moscow have. However, this is a stable, much much longer-term policy in relation to the previously mentioned two world powers. On the other hand, when it comes to the 5G network, this issue is a great security challenge for the so-called Western world. China is certainly investing this segment, and it does not miss the opportunity to do the same in the Western Balkans. If the countries in the Western Balkans are already using Chinese 5G technology, then how will they integrate into the EU security system, which is so afraid of this Chinese network? It is unbelievable that Beijing will just give up these investments, just to make the EU and the countries of the Western Balkans unite rapidly. This means that Beijing is increasingly strengthening its capacities in this region, far beyond the bare economic flows, and increasingly in the field of politics and security.
What can be done now…
It is difficult now to return anything to the factory settings, especially when it comes to relations between China and the Western Balkans. These are not partnership relations, but dependent relations from which the Western Balkans will find it difficult to get rid of overnight. Far from being Beijing a threat to countries in the region. However, they are investing, lending, doing something much faster than Washington and Brussels would do, but they also greatly affect the relations of the countries of this region with Western partners. Which are still the biggest investors in this part of Europe, but never capitalize on it, lost in their bureaucracy, and at the expense of their strategic interests. In fact, China’s role in the Western Balkans harms Brussels the most, not so much Washington, because it is Brussels that wants to fully integrate the countries of this region into its framework. But if it wants to win this battle, he will have to act a little faster and less bureaucratically in this part of the world, because here people admire the fast, efficient and effective role of Beijing, regardless of the country’s political system, and increasingly disgust of the Brussels administration, which still makes the most economic contributions, but lacks something to convince the Western Balkans that this region is truly an integral part of it.