Since President Xi Jinping announced the Belt and Road Initiative in Kazakhstan in 2013, framing it as an overland strategy to connect Asia to Europe, China’s inroads in the Western Balkans have grown more deeply entrenched. Through bridge construction projects in Croatia, investments in Bosnia’s energy infrastructure, and a bid to develop Serbia’s 5G networks, Beijing has turned the Balkans into a critical transitway as it tries to boost the export of its manufactured goods to Europe and grease the wheels of foreign direct investment into China. Its diplomatic and economic activities in the Balkans are divorced, however, from an understanding of the complex patchwork of ethnic, political, and historical legacies that define the region—so much so that it is likely to brew instability in an already rattled region.
China’s nexus in the Western Balkans is not without precedent. In the aftermath of the Second World War and failed rapprochement between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, Mao Zedong and Josip Broz Tito emerged as the region’s “communist mavericks.” Thus, began a tumultuous relationship between China and Yugoslavia as the two jockeyed for influence in Southeastern Europe while occasionally rallying against common rivals. China remained mostly neutral amid the series of ethnic conflicts in the early 1990s—including the ethnic cleansing of Bosnian Muslims—and wars for independence that accompanied the dissolution of Yugoslavia. After the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, however, the People’s Republic of China publicly reengaged with a $300 million infrastructure aid package. Today, China’s presence in the Western Balkans is most strongly felt in Serbia, where Beijing has established a strategic foothold.
Read the full article in The National Interest.
More from CNAS
VideoWhat does the US want from China? What is its endgame?
Daniel Kliman appears on a BBC News feature to discuss the state of U.S. policy toward China. Listen to the full conversation and more:...
By Daniel Kliman
Congressional TestimonyHow Corporations and Big Tech Leave Our Data Exposed to Criminals, China, and Other Bad Actors
I. Key Observations and Assessments1 Chairman Hawley, Ranking Member Whitehouse, distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to discuss a topic of...
By Kara Frederick
CommentaryHow American Progressives Think About Asian Security
Democrats running for the 2020 U.S. presidential nomination implicitly accept – or at least have not rejected – the premise that the United States’ fate is linked to that of t...
By Van Jackson
ReportsImbalance of Power
In a new report, experts Daniel Kliman, Iskander Rehman, Kristine Lee, and Joshua Fitt evaluate trend lines in the India-China military equation and assess Delhi’s current mil...
By Daniel Kliman, Iskander Rehman, Kristine Lee & Joshua Fitt