Tue. Dec 1st, 2020

FPI

china and balkans

 

In the early 2000s, China started to take an active role around the world. On the other hand,
we see that it started to be active in the Balkans after Xi Jinping’s examination of the Belt
Road Project, which extends from Asia to the Balkans, was announced in 2013. Subsequently,
67% of the Greece-Piraeus Port, which is the second-largest port of the Mediterranean, was
acquired by China in 2016. With the acquisition of this port, China took the task of
transporting the goods coming to Piraeus to Europe via the Balkans.
Although China seems to be very active in trade in the Balkans, its share of trade with
Balkan countries is only 5%. Only half of this percentage is with Serbia. Also, although the
EU gets worried about this situation, China is not an opponent of the EU. However, the
president of the EU Commission Ursula Von der Layen defended that the Balkans are not a
stop on the Silk Road but a part of Europe, and she emphasized that China’s presence in the
Balkans causes three difficulties: making countries dependent on itself by confining them in
debt, preventing the environmental standards demanded by the EU, and the continuity of
corruption.
If we examine the above-mentioned effects of China in the Balkans, it is firstly defended by
the EU that China has an active role in the region through borrowing. They explain this as
China’s fast and cheap meeting of infrastructure needs in the Balkans, providing loans to
Balkan states and thus increasing its political influence in the Balkans. An example is the
selection of a Chinese company for the highway project in Montenegro, and Montenegro’s
high debt to China. As a result of these situations, Montenegro, which has made many legal
regulations, has been under the influence of China and is also in a debtor position and has
difficulties in granting EU membership. Secondly, the environmental regulation conditions
signed as Energy Treaty are not applied. While the use of fossil fuels should be reduced and
the use of renewable energy sources should increase, China started investing in coal power
plants in the Balkans. Finally, the Anti-Corruption Reform was prepared in order to ensure the
democracy deemed necessary for the membership of the Balkans to the EU, to accept the rule
of law and to adopt respect for human rights; however, this reform is not implemented and it
is claimed that China also supports this situation. In addition, China’s biggest problem with
this issue is that it is not transparent in the Belt and Road Project.
In addition to the three main reasons mentioned above and defended by the EU, one of the
reasons why China is effective in the Balkans is the good use of its soft power. With the

Confucius Institutes opening, China provided cultural transfer for the public of the Balkans.
Besides, China’s ability to hold on so tightly in the region is that it uses its development model
with its capital and brings wealth to the Balkans. Accordingly, the public is against the
attitude of the EU towards China. On the other hand, if we look at it historically, the main
reason why China took its place in the Balkans so easily is the power vacuum created by the
EU in the Balkans by seeing the Balkans as inferior and inadequate. Combined with the
Euroskepticism that emerged in the 2010s, China took a step and made progress. However, all
these have not prevented the EU from giving up its fundamental interests in the Balkans
today, and the need for the unification of the Balkans and Europe was discussed.
In summary, China started to be active in the Balkans in the 2010s and started this with the
Belt and Road Project. Although China used trade afterward, its main point was that China
brought wealth to the Balkans by using its soft power and capital effectively and quickly.
However, China’s activism has emerged that three major shortcomings from the EU’s
perspective in the Balkans: borrowing and dependence on China, low environmental
standards, and the continuation of corruption. According to the EU, all these consequences
prevent the Balkans from joining the EU, on the other hand, the EU does not want to give up
its fundamental interests in the Balkans. The President of the EU Commission and the
presidents of the EU Commission member states made statements and expressed that they
want the Balkans to join the EU fully and to reduce the influence of China due to the
problems created in the region. But how likely is this to happen?

References:

“AB Komisyonu Başkanı von Der Leyen: Batı Balkanlar’ın Yeri AB’dir, Bununla Ilgili Hiçbir

Şüphe Yok,” Euronews, May 6, 2020, https://tr.euronews.com/2020/05/06/ab-komisyonu-
baskan-von-der-leyen-bat-balkanlar-n-yeri-ab-dir-bununla-ilgili-hicbir-suphe.

“Von Der Leyen: Western Balkans Are Part of Europe, Not Just a Stopover on the Silk Road,”
European Western Balkans, September 16, 2020,

https://europeanwesternbalkans.com/2020/09/16/von-der-leyen-western-balkans-are-part-
of-europe-not-just-a-stopover-on-the-silk-road/.

Gamze Ayan Çakmak, “Batı Balkanlar’da Çin-AB Rekabeti,” Diplomasi ve Strateji Dergisi The
Journal of Diplomacy and Strategy, n.d., https://www.dsjournal.org/post/bat%C4%B1-
balkanlar-da-%C3%A7in-ab-rekabeti.
Robin Emmott Aleksandar Vasovic, “EU Aims to Counter Chinese, Russian Influence at Balkan

Summit,” Reuters, May 6, 2020, https://in.reuters.com/article/eu-balkans/eu-aims-to-
counter-chinese-russian-influence-at-balkan-summit-idINL8N2CN6U7.

This article is written by Buse Bakkaloğlu

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