The Western Balkans with Chinese Characteristics

The Western Balkans with Chinese Characteristics. Center for Strategic & International Studies. Heather A. Conley, Jonathan E. Hillman, Matthew Melino. July 30, 2019

In 2012, China and 11 EU countries from Central and Southern Europe and 5 non-EU members from the Western Balkans met in Warsaw, Poland for the first time in a “16+1” format to deepen economic cooperation in the areas of infrastructure as well as information and green technological development. The occasion was marked by the signing of “China’s Twelve Measures for Promoting Friendly Cooperation with Central and Eastern European Countries” and the official launch of the 16+1. Seven years later in Dubrovnik, Croatia, the format has now grown to “17+1” with the inclusion of Greece. Nearly 40 bilateral deals were announced between China and partner countries, which included the opening of credit lines between the China Development Bank and Hungary worth €500 million, Croatia worth €300 million, Romania worth €100 million, Bulgaria worth €300 million, and Serbia worth €25 million.

It could be suggested that this region was in fact an early test case for the Chinese government’s 2013 announcement of its global Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which envisions land and maritime transportation corridors stretching across and around the Eurasian landmass to Europe. Certainly, there was a strong infrastructure demand signal emanating from the region, which grew frustrated when its needs for new roads, modern ports, and high-speed rail went unmet by Western investment. Having developed the unique, mixed EU and non-EU 16+1 structure, Beijing could claim to be helping to “bridge” the EU and non-EU divide. It also gained a high-profile vehicle to channel a portion of the BRI’s $1 trillion in promised infrastructure investment. [Note: contains copyrighted material].

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