№ 1, 2020
The Western Balkans represent a strategically important area of world politics. Despite the geographical, historical, cultural and economic inevitability of the European integration, the final choice by the Balkan countries of EU as an “empire by invitation” is complicated by the continuing uncertainty about the common future, as well as Brussels’s high institutional and fiscal requirements. Under these conditions, the emergence of a new powerful player — China — is fraught not only with economic, but also with political transformation of the Balkan space.
The institutional basis for China’s penetration into greater Europe was the 16 + 1 format that the country initiated in 2012, uniting a group of post-socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe under the auspices of Beijing. Two events — Greece joining the initiative in April 2019 and the transfer of a controlling stake in the port of Piraeus to the Chinese company COSCO — have seriously changed the economic balance in the European south. The efficiency of the Chinese presence in the region is based on a set of measures, including large-scale lending, accompanied by an increased debt in the recipient countries; an increase in the volume of bilateral trade; creation of special economic and technological zones, currency swaps, mechanisms of paying in local currency for cross-border trade. Due to the weak institutions, lack of available funds, and low regulatory barriers, Beijing, through financing infrastructure projects that connect different parts of the region, is creating a new version of the Balkan Federation, which is able to provide a reliable access for Chinese goods to Europe and European goods to China. The analysis carried out by the authors shows that, using exclusively economic leverages, China is slowly, but consistently, occupying the Balkan space and thereby solves the strategic tasks of penetrating the EU countries.
Main Page ~ Authors ~ Ponomareva Elena