Contributions of China’s Belt and Road Project to the Balkans

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“China’s Belt and Road Inıtiative” or the “Belt and Road Project” came to the agenda during the President of the People’s Republic Of China Xi Jingping’s visits to Indonesia and Kazakhstan in 2013 and found a response in a wide geography including the Balkans. The project sees Silk Road as a historical foothold and to revive it in two parts that are land and sea routes has been the purpose of China. The land route is from China to Europe passing through Turkey and the sea route that starts from China and it includes the Indian Ocean, Suez Canal and the European ports. It aims to connect East Asia, Central Asia, West Asia, Africa and Europe commercially while also achieving sustainable and balanced develoıpment is desired.

The Balkan countries that include the land routes are crucial for the Belt and Road Project due to their geopolitical positions. As a result, China will be able to cross to Europe through the Balkan countries and it will provide a wide market area for China. From the news article that was published in 2021, it could be observed that there exists 135 projects in Balkans that originated from China. It also says that these projects are worth over 32 billion Euros[1]. The Chinese capital has been making various economic investments in the countries Greece, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, North Macedonia amd Serbia.

One of the factors that have been shown as an example of the Chinese capital entering the Balkan lands is the 2008 Global Economic Crisis. To recall what have been happening, the economic crisis broke out as the ruptures from Yugoslavia had just ended but there could be a dynamic picture that could be drawn from Balkans. The disintegration process of Yugoslavia started with Slovenia, Croatia and Macedonia in 1991, then Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1992, Montenegro in 2006 and ended with Kosovo in 2008. The eruption of the Crisis in such a hectic time had negative effects on the geography. Significant decreases in the growth rates of these countries were observed and these helped the Chinese capital to enter to Europe.

Albania is an important part of the Belt and Road Project in Balkans. China and Albania have a history that started 50 years ago through the alliances made during the socialist era and Albania has a part in this project. European influence to the country made its communist ties with China and Russia to break. Within the scope of the project, these two have started being mentioned together again. As the Chinese capital started to flow into the country, in 2016 there have been an investment of 384.6 million Euros in the Patos-Marinza oil field. Also, the entire Tirana International Airport was sold to China. After that, the amount of capital invested in Albania started going down and eventually no Chinese investments were done after 2016.

Albanian President Edi Rama has talked about this situation during his visit to Tokyo. Referring to the Belt and Road Project, Rama drew attention to the fact that the 17+1 economic partnership has no profit. But Rama also added that, in order to keep the communication channels open with China, they will not be leaving the table. It is possible to interpret this as the end of the economic activities between the two[2].

Serbia is one of the Balkan countries that is being guided by the Chinese capital due to the Belt and Road Project. There exists 61 projects that has the value of 18.7 billion Euros financed by the Chinese capital. Chinese companies that provided more than 2 billion Euros to support 16 projects between 2012 and 2021 while giving a loan of 5.7 billion Euros. Serbia stands out more when compared to other Balkan countries. Such that, from 2009 to 2021, 10.3 billion Euros of the 32 billion Euros of Chinese capital flowed to Serbia. During that time, Serbia signed the Bulgaria-Pozega Road Project worth 333.74 billion Dollars with the Shangdong International Economic and Technical Cooperation Group. This project started in 2014 and ended in 2017.

Although Serbia is a European Union (EU) candidate, they are not hesitant to have ties with Russia and China. This leads to the idea that Serbia is moving away from the EU bloc. In 2023, negotiations between the two countries on the free trade agreements between China and Serbia have officially started. The Ukranian War affected Serbia in a way that they have taken a more moderate stance which lead to harsh reactions from the EU. The continuation of this process could be interpreted as there will be an increase in the Eastern capital in Serbia[3].

Road construction works being done in line with the finances received from China can also be observed in countries such as Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Montenegro entered the road project as a result of the contract they have signed with the Chinese capital in 2014. Agreements have been made with a company called China Road with 1 billion Dollars taken from the Import-Export Bank of China and with Bridge Corporation for bridges. Despite the years of work that was put out, only 41 kilometers of the 163 kilometer road have been put into service due to some technical difficulties. On the other hand, Shandong International Economic and Technical Cooperation Group continues to work for the tram infrastructure in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Also, the same Chinese firm have signed a contract for the construction of two highways in the Serbian Republic.

As a result, the “Belt and Road Project” announced by Xi Jinping in 2013 had a positive impact in the Balkan countries. In this context, the Chinese firms made investments in many Balkan countries. In fact, as seen in the Serbia example, these investments turned these countries away from the EU and closer to China and Russia. However, this situation was not the same in every Balkan country. As it can be seen in the Albania example, there are also countries that China did not receive sufficient attention from China.In addition, the Montenegro issue shows that the countries that fall under the credit given above the limits have started looking for the solution in the Western capital. The whole picture shows us that China’s Belt and Road Project will continue to increase its importance in the Balkans.

[1] “China in The Balkans: Controversy and Cost”, Balkan Insight,, (Date of Accession: 29.07.2023).

[2] “Albanian PM: No Economic Benefits from Chinese Cooperation”, Euro Activ,, (Date of Accession: 29.07.2023). 

[3] “China Returns to the Western Balkans”, Emerging,, (Date of Accession: 29.07.2023).  

Furkan DOĞDU
Furkan DOĞDU, 1999 yılında Samsun’da doğmuştur. 2022 yılında Ondokuz Mayıs Üniversitesi Tarih Bölümü’nden mezun olmuştur. Halihazırda yüksek lisans eğitimine Ondokuz Mayıs Üniversitesi Yakınçağ Tarihi ana bilim dalında devam etmekte olup Balkan Tarihi üzerine çalışmalar yürütmektedir.