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Belgrade Media Report 28 June 2019

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United Nations Office in Belgrade

Daily Media Highlights

Friday 28 June 2019

LOCAL PRESS

• Kosovo cannot participate in Eurovision (Kurir)
• Messages on the occasion of St. Vitus Day (Beta)
• Vucic Thanks the outgoing Russian Ambassador (RTS)
• Serbia opens Chapter 9 – Financial services in accession talks with EU (Beta)
• Serbia files war crimes charges against former Slovenian president (Politika)

REGIONAL PRESS

Bosnia & Herzegovina
• HDZ B&H’s Kristo: We must ensure independent judiciary and democratic monitoring of agencies such as OSA (Vecernji list)
• OHR, EUD to B&H, OSCE Mission to B&H ask for investigation of allegations according to which B&H OSA puts 10 media in B&H, Serbia, Croatia under surveillance (BHT1)
• Latest developments with regard to surveillance undermine trust in OSA (RTRS)
• NATO Sec Gen Stoltenberg reminds of B&H ministers agreeing to submit ANP (FTV)
• German authorities arrest a Bosnian man suspected of supporting terrorism (RTRS)
Croatia
• Government delighted at election of Pejcinovic Buric as CoE Secretary General (Hina)
Montenegro
• Djukanovic: Partnership with America is priceless (CDM)
Albania
• President of Republic, Ilir Meta decrees a new date for the local elections (Radio Tirana)
• Ilir Meta sends letter to Rama: Dear Edi, be a visionary and reflect (ADN)

INTERNATIONAL NEWS

• China in the Balkans: Neutral business partner or a foreign power? (EWB)

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LOCAL PRESS

 

Kosovo cannot participate in Eurovision (Kurir)

 

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU), by a majority of votes, refused to accept Kosovo as an independent state, reports Kurir daily. This has practically put an end on the current aspirations of Kosovo to participate in “Eurovision” as an “independent state”. The meeting that decided on the Kosovo application was completed today. At a meeting in Oslo, attended by representatives of the RTS, decision was made for Kosovo not be admitted to this organization as a full member, and therefore will not be able to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest. EBU members did not accept the change of status and the motion for the Kosovo to becomes an equal member.  Assistant Director of RTS, Milivoje Mihajlovic, said that Kosovo failed to enter the EBU because majority with 673 votes were against, and 400 votes were for the amending the statute. Mihajlovic points out that this process lasted more than a year and was initiated by five public services from the region – Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and Hungary.

“Today, Hungary has withdrawn the signature from this request, but the EBU has accepted the RTS argument that it is a political move, that it is a political precedent and that it will harm peace in our region and the definition of European the broadcasting union to be a professional and not a political organization” Mihajlovic said.

 

Messages on the occasion of St. Vitus Day (Beta)

 

Minister without portfolio in the Serbian cabinet, Nenad Popovic, said that “all of Kosovo is Serbia.” “These are borders that there can be no compromise over, if we want to remain Prince Lazar’s, Vidovdan people,” Popovic said referring to Serbian medieval ruler Prince Lazar who died battling the Turks in Kosovo Polje on Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day), June 28, 1389. “If we forfeit Kosovo today or try to trade it in any way, we will lose our honor, lose ourselves, and not leave the next generation of Serbs even the ideal or room to at one point regain occupied Kosovo, because of the false promises of today’s powerholders,” Popovic said. The minister said that “the honorable battle for freedom and independence… does not always have to be armed, but is very often diplomatic.” “Today, in this time when they are exerting huge pressure on us to renounce our Kosovo, to acknowledge it in this or that form, when they are persecuting our people, threatening them with violence and hunger, we must find inspiration again in the Vidovdan ethic that there can be no yielding when our essence and the meaning of the existence of our national body is at stake,” Popovic stressed in a written statement. Popovic ended the statement with the slogan See You Next Year in Prizren, an allusion that Serbs would gather next year in the city in Kosovo, from which many of them were expelled in 1999.

 

Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic said that the survival of Serbs in Kosovo was possible only in agreement with the Albanians. Draskovic, whose party is a member of the ruling coalition in Serbia, said this on the occasion of St. Vitus Day. “Our historical memory is in Kosovo; our churches and monasteries are all around Metohija. We are obligated to fight for the survival and strengthening of the Serb people in this territory. We can and must succeed only in agreement and friendship with the majority Albanian people” Draskovic stressed. Draskovic also said that “the myth of a heavenly kingdom which is more important than a living Serbia is not the Serbian Renewal Movement’s program.”

 

Vucic Thanks the outgoing Russian Ambassador (RTS)

 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic organized a farewell visit for the Russian Ambassador Alexander Chepurin and thanked him for everything he had done in the past seven years “on development of the best possible relations between Serbia and Russia”. Vucic said that he noticed something rarely seen among diplomatic representatives on Chepurin: “At any moment you have shown love towards our country and primarily respect towards our country”, Vucic emphasized. Chepurin said that, when he arrived to Serbia, he could see that people were not pleased with their lives and that he felt a lot of pessimism at the time with our citizens, but now, as he said, a progress could be seen, both moral and economic. “This is a great merit of your rule and a great thing”, Chepurin said and emphasized that Serbia had ability to progress due to changes in management of the state, which currently had a good leadership. “Tell (Russian President Vladimir) Putin Serbia fulfilled everything”: The Serbian President visited Nis on Thursday, at a review of the unit for emergency situations and used that opportunity to publicly address Russian deputy Minister for emergency situations Aleksandar Cuprijan. “Mr. Cuprijan, please greet Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin on my behalf and tell him that we have fulfilled everything that the two of us talked about the last two times we met” Vucic said.

 

President Vucic also said that the status of the Serbian – Russian Humanitarian Centre established in the southern city of Nis was still to be decided on. Vucic said that if allowed the diplomatic status, the European Union would criticize him, while if he didn’t grant it, the pro-Russians would react. However, he said he was taking care of Serbia’s interests and that the public would be notified when the Centre’s status was decided on. “The state has its serious policy and doesn’t follow what someone likes or not, but only its interests” he said.

 

Serbia opens Chapter 9 – Financial services in accession talks with EU (Beta)

 

In Brussels on June 27, Serbia opened Chapter 9 dealing with financial services in accession talks with the European Union. At an intergovernmental conference, Serbia signed an agreement under which it will receive EUR179 million in grants from the EU. European Integration Minister Jadranka Joksimovic said that Serbia could be satisfied with the opening of 17 chapters so far in membership talks with the EU, although Belgrade had expected to open two chapters on June 27. Joksimovic said that the opening of Chapter 9 would ensure the security of Serbia’s financial system. She stressed that “Serbia is not losing momentum” on its EU integration path. George Ciamba, Foreign Minister of Romania, the country presiding over the EU, said Serbia needed to align its foreign policy with that of the EU and also to resume the dialogue with Pristina as soon as possible. Speaking at a joint news conference, European Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said it was necessary for Serbia to make progress in the rule of law, fundamental freedoms and democratic governance. Hahn recalled that the EU had approved more than EUR2 billion in grants to Serbia since 2007.

 

Serbia files war crimes charges against former Slovenian president (Politika)

 

War crimes charges have been filed against the politician who took Slovenia out of the former Yugoslavia, reports Politika. Charges were filed with the Serbian War Crimes Prosecution against former Slovenian President Milan Kucan for war crimes against prisoners of war and genocide in the summer of 1991.   The newspaper said that charges were also filed against Slovenian Territorial Defense chief of staff Janez Slapar, the former commander of the coastal area Territorial Defense Franc Anderlic and three others.

Kucan, Slapar, Anderlic and the others are alleged to have violated the Geneva Conventions during the conflict in Slovenia between June 27 and July 7, 1991, between the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) and federal police and the Slovenian Territorial Defense and other para-military formations under the control of the Slovenian authorities.

Lawyer Dusan Bratic, who filed the charges, said that Kucan had command over all armed formations as president of Slovenia which means he is one of the people responsible for the breakup of Yugoslavia. “Kucan did nothing to punish the perpetrators but also encouraged the commission of war crimes. A number of war crimes were committed against civilians, including the wives and children of JNA personnel, the wounded, medical staff, prisoners and soldiers who laid down their arms” he said.

The armed conflict in Slovenia broke out on June 27, 1991, marking the start of the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, after Kucan read out a decree at a Slovenian Presidency session ordering armed operations, including artillery strikes, against JNA units. He also called the population to refuse any contact with JNA personnel and their families, including medical aid. A total of 44 JNA personnel were killed and 184 wounded in the war in Slovenia.

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina

 

HDZ B&H’s Kristo: We must ensure independent judiciary and democratic monitoring of agencies such as OSA (Vecernji list)

 

Speaker of the House of Representatives (HoR) of the Parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) and HDZ B&H Deputy President Borjana Kristo commented a recent extraordinary session of B&H HoR and said that the discussion at the session has shown that many issues are being manipulated – from the migrant crisis to the state of judiciary. “The point is that in the end we cannot agree on what is in the interest of B&H, in which we should have rule of law and have everyone equal before the law. We agree that the situation in judiciary is not good, but there is a way in which we must work… We can only act in legislative manner. We can talk about it and propose certain laws. However, we now have a situation where the whole justice reform is being created by the international community” said Kristo and pointed out it is crucial for the institutions to promote independent and objective justice system in the interest of all the citizens in B&H. She noted that the decision of B&H HoR to call on the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) of B&H to collectively resign does not have any weight legally speaking.

 

Asked about criticism against judiciary and different accusations and affairs, Kristo said that she is taking everything with a pinch of salt, but there are certainly some problems. “However, we can see this is about Sarajevo circles who are discontent and who want to impose their discontentment. Regardless of the discontentment, we must preserve independence of this pillar of authority.” Kristo went on to say that the authorities need to establish democratic monitoring of the law-enforcement agencies, namely the Intelligence-Security Agency (OSA) of B^H. The OSA should be working in the interests of B&H, she said, but unfortunately it is working on undermining the country. “Even the judiciary ‘affairs’ came only from this agency. That is why we must urgently establish democratic monitoring over the OSA work.”

 

Commenting the issue with state-level authority formation, Kristo said that an agreement was reached, but suddenly the partners started imposing new conditions. She briefly noted that the Joint Collegium of the Parliament of B&H is in charge of naming the Delegation for the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). Commenting the fact that she withdrew her motion before the Constitutional Court (CC) of B&H regarding the Federation of B&H Constitution, Kristo said that she simply informed them that the motion is no longer urgent, and the CC B&H should leave the issue in the hands of political leaders. Kristo refused to comment the election of Zeljko Komsic as Croat member of the Presidency of B&H.

 

OHR, EUD to B&H, OSCE Mission to B&H ask for investigation of allegations according to which B&H OSA puts 10 media in B&H, Serbia, Croatia under surveillance (BHT1)

 

The Office of the High Representative, the EU Delegation (EUD) to Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) and the OSCE Mission to B&H have asked for investigation of allegations according to which the Intelligence-Security Agency (OSA) of B&H has put journalists of 10 media in B&H, Croatia and Serbia under surveillance. They warned in separate comments that these allegations represent upsetting information.

“Competent domestic institutions should be dealing with this issue. The OHR wants to point out that media freedoms are one of the central pillars of a democratic society, which is why they need to be protected by the political leaders” stated the OHR, while the EUD underlined that freedom and safety of the journalists are indicators of country’s progress in the integration process. The OSCE stated that the wiretapping allegations should be investigated, not politicized.

 

Latest developments with regard to surveillance undermine trust in OSA (RTRS)

 

Rwepublika Srpska (RS) President Zeljka Cvijanovic stated on Thursday that latest developments related to wiretapping are undermining confidence in the work of the Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) Intelligence-Security Agency (OSA). Cvijanovic said that she does not agree with any kind of measures which go outside the law. “Yes, they are wiretapping everything and everyone and I can only say that I absolutely disagree with any kind of measures which go outside the law, to write and sign various orders, to wiretap political opponents, representatives of the media and anyone who could be interesting only in that way, while at the same time, people who represent a serious security threat both for the citizens, property, order and everything else are not being wiretapped” Cvijanovic underlined.

 

Chair of SNSD Caucus in the House of Representatives (HoR) of B&H Stasa Kosarac argued that SDA leader Bakir Izetbegovic holds control over the joint institutions, including B&H OSA. Kosarac added that Izetbegovic does not want to allow formation of the state institutions in line with election results and he has been keeping B&H in blockade for the past nine months. “B&H OSA has been working without the parliamentary supervision for years now, and this is the key problem” Kosarac said and added that B&H OSA’s decision on wiretapping of media is both unacceptable and illegal. “One of the first moves of SNSD after formation of the joint institutions of B&H will be to establish supervision over the work of this Agency. It is now under the full control of Izetbegovic. It is SDA’s agency” Kosarac concluded.

 

NATO Sec Gen Stoltenberg reminds of B&H ministers agreeing to submit ANP (FTV)

 

Defense Ministers of NATO member states held a summit in Brussels and discussed Russia’s decision to withdraw from the agreement on mid-range nuclear missiles and the situation regarding Iran. NATO Defense Ministers also discussed the situation in the Western Balkans and expressed expectations that Northern Macedonia will become full member of NATO by the end of 2019. Commenting on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) and its path to join NATO, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that B&H’s long-term partnership with NATO is very much appreciated and state ministers already agreed to submit the first Annual National Program (ANP) which is very important for strengthening of partnership between B&H and NATO because it includes measures related to political, economic and defense reforms. Stoltenberg stressed that the main goal is to help implement aforementioned reforms and it is up to B&H to decide whether or not it will accept NATO’s offer but this decision will not automatically predetermine B&H as a future NATO member. The reporter noted that B&H’s delegation at the summit was headed by Minister of Defense of B&H Marina Pendes and it is not sure if B&H will comply with NATO’s request to submit the ANP. Pendes took part in a ministerial meeting dedicated to operation ‘Resolute Support’ during which she underlined B&H’s dedication to continuation of building peace and long-term stability in Afghanistan. Pendes stressed that, by taking part in these kind of missions, B&H has demonstrated its firm dedication to continuation of Euro-Atlantic road.

 

German authorities arrest a Bosnian man suspected of supporting terrorism (RTRS)

 

German authorities arrested a Bosnia man sought by Belgium for his alleged connection with 2015 Paris terrorist attacks. Prosecutors from the German city of Dresden said the 39-year-old man was arrested a week ago on the suspicion of being connected to Paris attacks from November 2015 when Islamic terrorists attacked several targets including the Bataclan music hall, leaving 130 dead. They added that Belgian authorities issued a warrant for his arrest on the suspicion of his alleged support for the terrorist organization hat conducted these attacks.

German authorities said they would keep the suspect in custody until his extradition to Belgium.

 

Croatia

 

Government Delighted at Election of Pejcinovic Buric as CoE Secretary General (Hina)

 

At the beginning of his cabinet meeting on Thursday morning, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic again extended his congratulations to Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejcinovic Buric on her election as the 14th secretary general of the Council of Europe.

“This is the biggest international, political and diplomatic success considering the election of any Croatian representative to international institutions” Plenkovic said. “I think that we can be proud of the minister’s success and of the broad backing she gained. We can be proud of Croatia’s international position and reputation in foreign affairs and values we share” the premier said.

Plenkovic said that Pejcinovic Buric’s success could be perceived also as the victory of east and southeast Europe, as she is the first CoE Secretary General from that part of the continent.

The premier thanked all Croatian ambassadors and parliamentary delegations for their contribution to this success. He reiterated that Croatia had made a good impression during its six-month chairmanship of this organization last year.

 

While coming to the government meeting, several ministers told the press outside Government House that they congratulated Pejcinovic Buric on her election to the new post. Education Minister Blazenka Divjak said that this “is a good message to young people, notably to young girls, considering the fact that she is the second woman to be at the helm of the Council of Europe.” “This is also encouragement that the glass ceiling can be broken” said Divjak.

The ministers declined to speculate who can succeed Pejcinovic Buric in the post of the country’s foreign minister. She assumes her new duties in October.

 

Montenegro

 

Djukanovic: Partnership with America is priceless (CDM)

 

“We are going to keep on promoting western values, focused on reaching standards of contemporary democratic societies, maintenance of multi-ethnicity and multiconfessionalism of our community and improvement of life quality of our citizens. This will make Montenegro be the next EU member” said the President of Montenegro, Milo Djukanovic, at the reception in the US Embassy. As reported from President’s Cabinet, he pointed out that the history of relations between Montenegro and the USA was long and rich and that a real friendship had been instilled in it. “From John Jackson, the first American diplomatic representative, to Judy Rising Reinke. Long battle for freedom and all common values we share today are our flag” said Djukanovic.

He reminded that thousands of Montenegrin young men swam across America, from Sacramento to Alaska, in their search for better and happier life.

“At the beginning of the last century, 10% of our population lived and worked in America. What they brought youth to America was youth. What they brought to their poor homeland was money, new ideas and information about technological advance in a better world” said Djukanovic.

 

Our greatest philosopher and poet, ruler and bishop, Petar II Petrovic Njegos, wanted to go to America too, since European forces, caught up in the whirl of imperial interests, seemed to have forgotten about the many- century long suffering of Montenegrin people and their fight for independence. “Njegos never reached America. However, only a couple of months before his death, commander of the American war ship “Nezavisnost”, anchored in the port in Naples, welcomed him warmly and with highest honors” pointed out Djukanovic. Little is known about the fact that Montenegrin King Nikola anticipated the importance of Trans-Atlantic connection.

“He generously offered Montenegrin coast near Ulcinj to president Taft so that the USA can set up a navy base and a station for the supply of American ships in European waters. Pearson, a diplomat, said that he wanted to see that nation that had managed to regain independence even before the discovery of America. He also said that Montenegro had decided to overtake America”, said the President.

 

Political cooperation between Montenegro and the USA intensified in the lead up to the Great War. “Montenegro and the USA found themselves on the same side of the front, in the battle against Central forces. Woodrow Wilson’s Program for the Establishment of Peace, known as „14 points”, was a flicker of hope for the renewal of Montenegrin independence. In 1921, America discontinued the relations with Montenegro. One of the greatest fighters for defense and respect of Montenegrin rights in the USA, Whitney Warren, published in 1922 in New York a book under the title „Montenegro – crime of the peace conference “in which he revealed injustices and hidden political games. Unfortunately, Montenegro fell victim to such malicious games. However, he predicted that Montenegro would be independent again. He was obviously right”, said Djukanovic. Today, our countries endeavor to preserve the memories of the great events from our history. “Not only did Montenegrin emigrants work in America, but they also fought for freedom in the wars. One of the soldiers who received the highest military decoration „Medal of honor”, was Joko Mestrovic. We point out with pride the fact that Montenegrin people organized a mass uprising against fascism on 13 July 1941.  Jean-Paul Sartre said it was an event that had shown the humanity where to go” said Djukanovic.

 

The USA were among the first states to recognize the outcome of the referendum on Montenegrin independence in 2006. “US support in the fulfillment of high standards in the process of Euro-Atlantic integration was also very important. That qualified us for NATO membership, and opened new perspective on the development of Montenegrin society. That stable relationship continues, within the Alliance. We look for the responses to contemporary challenges together, we equally share our burdens, regardless of the size and capacities”, said the President.

He thanked American partners for the support to reform processes in Montenegro. He thanked the Ambassador, Judy Rising Reinke, for the assistance in creating the environment suitable for higher FDI inflow and greater number of US tourists. Djukanovic said that it would take him a while to count only the most important features of the relations between Montenegro and the USA.

 

Albania

 

President of Republic, Ilir Meta decrees a new date for the local elections (Radio Tirana)

 

The President of the Republic, Ilir Meta decreed a new date for the local elections. The local elections will be held on 13 October according to the President, while he noted that the decision was taken due to the date of the decision from the EU for opening the negotiations with Albania.

During the day, President Meta met with the chairman of the opposition parties, starting with the head of the DP, Lulzim Basha and some of the ambassadors and the EU ambassador, Luigi Soreca. President Meta also invited Pm Edi Rama in a meeting, but the latter refused the invitation, explaining that he was busy with the campaign.

“All are required to show European responsibility and conduct.” This is the statement issued by the President of the Republic, Ilir Meta, after meeting with the leader of DP Lulzim Basha.

 

Ilir Meta sends letter to Rama: Dear Edi, be a visionary and reflect (ADN)

 

The President Ilir Meta published an open letter he has just sent to PM Edi Rama on Thursday evening… Dear Edi, you have unjustly deprived me, both in institutional and human terms, from the opportunity to get together. I am deeply indignant and worried at the same time, that you responded to my invitation for a meeting today, with a dive in a pool just 200 meters from the Presidency. I us to decide together the election date and I have been waiting for you since June 8, 2019. But, as you rightly complained, I could not leave Albania without a date of local elections and deny Albanians the right to vote calmly, in peace and with alternatives.

The date of October 13, 2019, is the new date for holding of local elections. This was decided because this is the nearest date which can guarantee the right of the opposition to participate in elections, and also guarantee its involvement in the election administration process.

We both know, very well, from those who decide on the European future of Albania, that there is no opening of negotiations with the European Union with one party elections, where you are hurrying to? I am reminding you that on 17-18 October 2019, we expect the European Council session that could decide to open membership negotiations for Albania and North Macedonia.

You say that the date I have decreed on is a gift on the occasion of Doctor Berisha’s birthday on October 15th. You know that I have never kept it a secret, neither to you nor the public, the weakness I have for the Doctor. Humans as we are, we have our weaknesses. But you’re not such a “great hater” of Berisha as you act in front of your cameras. Even more so, the authors of the biggest deals in this country are you and the Doctor, just as it was in the overnight deal that changed the foundations of our Constitution, which was voted on the referendum by all the people, and the consequences of which we still suffer today.

Of course, there is no connection with October 18 either, the birthday of the last communist leader, Ramiz Alia, who, despite his communist believes, displayed high responsibility by postponing the 1991 election, creating the right space for the opposition to participate for the good of the country. So please Edi, be a visionary, reflect and do not disappoint us!

 

INTRNATIONAL NEWS

 

China in the Balkans: Neutral business partner or a foreign power? (EWB)

 

China’s engagement in international politics has intensified in recent years, especially since Xi Jinping became the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. The Western Balkans are no exception. Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo have all seen an increase in interactions with China. In a new Prague Security Studies Institute study, the analyses by Balkan experts show similar patterns in China’s approaches to the region and its local perceptions. The collaborative work is worthy of attention since the region’s relations with the PRC remain underreported.

 

A new era in Balkan-China relations

 

The study points to an increase in interactions with China in recent years. This has featured the establishment of the ‘16+1’ platform in 2012, a China-led grouping of European countries from the former Soviet Bloc that aims to strengthen cooperation and political ties. This organization plays an important role in promoting the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the region, but has sparked suspicions internationally, experts and politicians warn that 16+1 is mainly a Chinese tool to drive a wedge between EU’s West and EU’s East.

Balkan politicians (even in Kosovo, a country that is not officially recognized by PRC) seem to be bending over backward to get Chinese investments and loans to fund their projects and help develop their countries. The study’s findings show that so far very little investment has materialized, and mostly brought limited benefit to the host countries. The only country receiving substantial amounts from China is Serbia, but even here Maja Bjeloš – the author of the Serbian paper – notes that “the forms of Chinese investment are almost exclusively acquisitions, construction contracts and loans with little added value for Serbia (e.g. using Chinese contractors and thus not creating new job opportunities or providing skills development).”

This seems to be the pattern in most of the Chinese investment projects from the Philippines to Africa, something that has led to considerable international scrutiny of BRI. The study’s authors also highlight the lack of transparency in the way Chinese regime interacts with local governments, even saying that it is endangering the EU accession process:

“China’s non-transparent business practices provide space for corruption to flourish. Since corruption is one of the region’s biggest obstacles to its transition process and European integration, Chinese activities should be closely monitored.”

Most of the projects, the authors agree, belong to the infrastructure and energy sectors. Corruption has indeed been reported in the case of North Macedonia, where the government got caught discussing a “commission” in exchange for making a highway project cost the country extra 155 million Euro. Another trait noticed by the Bosnian and Herzegovinian paper’s author Srećko Latal is the Chinese export of construction capacity and “its older, ‘dirty’ technology, equipment and know-how elsewhere.”

Martin Naunov’s paper on North Macedonia notes that in the case of projects in that country “the contracts envision Chinese courts as the bodies that arbitrate in disputes effectively exempting China from any costs in unfavorable scenarios,” which could turn out to be a major issue should any dispute within the projects arise.

The Western Balkans’ BRI experience, as described in the study, fits patterns observed elsewhere. The lack of substantial investment in the five countries is similar to what Sinopsis, a Prague-based project focusing on China, has called the “the ‘economic diplomacy’ of empty promises”: despite high-profile announcements and agreements, promised projects often fail to materialize. While the Czech Republic is a prime example, similar situations have been described globally, from the Philippines to Poland. Nor are the lack of transparency and China-enabled corruption limited to the Western Balkans. The North Macedonian case is reminiscent of the previous Malaysian government’s dealings with China in the context of BRI projects, where government officials including the PM made deals to raise the costs of infrastructure and split the extra amount between themselves and the Chinese company building the project. The PM also asked China to spy on Wall Street Journal journalists in Hong Kong investigating Malaysian corruption.

 

Neutral economic partner or a foreign power?

 

While the authors of the study mostly agree in their description and interpretation of economic cooperation between the countries and China, they differ in the perception of China as a potential threat. Some seem to suggest that China is more of a neutral power, interested only in business. Others, such as Naunov, underline China’s potential threat to the countries’ stability and political culture. He cites reports and statements by, among others, EU officials, pointing to possible consequences of deals with China:

“China’s economic engagement in the region–which gives off an impression of ‘a politically neutral force and a reliable business partner’ – belies a formidable strategy in the geopolitical and ideological power struggle with the West. This stratagem is likely the reason behind EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn’s identification of Chinese influence as a much greater danger to the Western Balkans than Russian influence.”

And furthermore, quotes a European Union Institute of Security Studies paper: “China’s economic expansion is fostered by its domestic model of business relations, based on a balance between state and market forces which is in stark contrast with the governance reforms promoted by the EU China’s economic expansion, for example, often abets unmitigated corruption, as is best illustrated by China’s financing of two highways in North Macedonia.”

The authors of the report also seem to fear “debt-trap diplomacy”, mainly in North Macedonia and Montenegro.

According to Naunov, since Chinese courts can rule on project disputes, “the North Macedonian government is now compelled to plunge the country into further debt, something that could add North Macedonia to an already sizable list of states in different parts of the world that have fallen into this so-called ‘China debt trap’”.

On the other hand, Bjeloš notes that the “Serbian government still does not seem to have recognized the risk of falling into the so-called ‘Chinese debt trap’”.

 

China’s global coming out

 

Internationally, China tries to promote an image as a neutral power just doing business. The messaging still seems to be working in many places, and as the report suggests, even in the Western Balkans. Under Xi Jinping, PRC is getting increasingly active in lobbying and influence operations globally. This was underlined by Xi’s Davos speech in 2017, where he stated that China is aiming for “two leaderships” that is in globalization and insecurity issues.

China thus actively pushes to change norms and standards to be more aligned with its own worldview and agendas. For this, it has been employing ‘elite capture’ tactics, co-opting local and international actors, at times in exchange for money. For example, former Serbian foreign minister Vuk Jeremić and president of the UN General Assembly received millions for cooperation with a former Hong Kong minister (and CEFC the conglomerate he worked for) sentenced by a US court to 3 years of jail for bribing politicians at the UN and in Africa,

Xi Jinping also boosted China’s United Front work that is now actively approaching politicians and public alike in order to co-opt them and advance China’s interests abroad. The Leninist nature of China’s Party-state system many interactions with Chinese entities can be more political than is the case with other nations. Even cultural exchanges are often politicized when it comes to China, often with the intent of cultivating local actors rather than simply promoting culture. The activity of the Confucius Institutes should be understood in this context. These organizations are not NGOs, as the Serbia paper calls them, but rather government entities with links to the CCP’s propaganda system.

During an April PSSI conference presenting findings of this study, some of the Balkan experts denied that the Western Balkans could become “Trojan horses” bringing Chinese influence ever closer to the West via EU accession, saying that “even Italy is now joining the BRI”. Indeed, China already enjoys considerable political influence not only in EU countries such as Italy or the Czech Republic but elsewhere in the Western world. But while “the West” is dealing with China extensively, too, and is getting under heavier and heavier Chinese lobbying, some of the malpractice should not be repeated simply because other countries “do it too”.

Based on Naunov’s quotation of a Chinese academic who stated that “North Macedonia’s EU accession would benefit China as well” and other authors’ discussion of the accession process as linked to China’s increasing interest in the countries, the potential risk of China influencing local politics in order to gain more power in EU structures should not be dismissed.

As in other regions, local actors in the Western Balkan could benefit from an increased understanding of China and its politics. A lack of China knowledge may result in failing to see China’s activities abroad in the general context of its political system, which differs markedly from more familiar European models. The need to understand China on its own terms will only become more important as the country continues to become more assertive.

 

 

 

 

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Belgrade Media Report 25 February 2020

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