Image by The Russian Presidential Press and Information Office, via Wikimedia Commons. Accessed 16.05.2018
Over the past six years, China has dramatically increased its economic footprint in the Balkans and CEE; with the acquisition of Greece’s main cargo ports in Piraeus as a key turning point. Beijing’s policy of financing large infrastructure projects comes complete with a problematic environmental and transparency record. Chinese investments – which are most commonly agreed via direct political negotiations that circumvent tendering procedures and anti-corruption safeguards required by the EU – have helped regional autocratic and illiberal regimes further cement their grip on power.
There are also concerns that Chinese investments in the region have also required governments to pass one-off legislation to meet the requirements set by Chinese investors. This has, in some cases, created legal loopholes and anomalies that, in turn, will make it exponentially harder for any more pro-European government to repeal the negative consequences of seemingly opaque policies.
Crucially, China sees the Balkans not as a dark forest of Byzantine politics, but as a geographically and politically important region; a lynchpin between the Mediterranean and Central Europe, and a bridge between the Western world and wider Eurasia. Furthermore, from the vantage point of Beijing, the position of the Balkan peninsula is potentially a good testing ground for the projection of political influence and how to acquire new friends among EU members and candidate countries.