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Former Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to China Amel Kovacevic: “China Acts as A Contractor for Cooperation in Areas Such as Construction and Energy.”

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With its influence in the Balkans, China aims to deepen its cooperation with countries in the region. In this context, the Beijing administration takes important initiatives by financing various projects in the Balkans. It is known that China, which sees the Balkans as a strategic region in line with its economic goals, has made large investments, especially in Serbia. Therefore, China is increasing its soft power in Balkans through these investments.

In this context, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM), presents the views of the former Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to China, Amel Kovacevic, to evaluate China’s policy in the Balkans.

  1. According to the Balkan Investigative Journalism Network (BIRN), China invested 32 billion euros in the region between 2009 and 2021. China is trying to increase its political influence as well as its economic potential in the Balkans. How do you evaluate China’s policy on the region?

It is claimed that China has invested billions in the region. These are not investments. China financed some projects in the Balkans. For this reason, some of the investors of projects operate in the private sector; while some of them are state-sponsored organizations. Essentially, China acts as a contractor for cooperation in areas such as construction and energy. Therefore, China does not invest in the Balkans. Because when it comes to investment, it has to put its capital into projects that accept a kind of payback period.

In summary, China is the financing contractor for different types of projects such as engineering, procurement, and construction in the Balkans. In other words, China undertakes these projects as a result of international tenders opened by the governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, and Montenegro. That’s why when you say that China has an investment of 32 billion euros, it doesn’t exactly reflect the truth. For example, the Peljesac Bridge, which connects the South Adriatic coast to the rest of the country, including Dubrovnik, and which was officially opened in Croatia in July 2022, was built by the Chinese company “China Road and Bridge Corporation.” However, the European Union (EU) financed the bridge project. In other words, there is no Chinese investment reaching the region.

In short, the desire of the Chinese to be involved in all kinds of projects to gain influence in the Balkans is praised more than necessary. Of course, Balkan countries actively participate in cooperation with China. Here, China’s priority is to create value. That’s why it uses available resources. However, it should not be forgotten that all these projects in the Balkans are based on banks and states.

If there is no internal dispute and conflict in the region, China’s importance will disappear completely. These countries are vulnerable. Therefore, “global powers” are using the conflicts in the Balkans. Thus, China gains importance.

  1. Do you think China is trying to steal a role from the EU?

No, I do not think so. Because they do not have the capacity, ambition or agenda to be compared to an identity (nation). First of all, China has an issue with geography. The EU offers a perspective for all Balkan countries. Therefore, despite various difficulties, the EU is being adopted more by the countries of the region, both economically and politically. For this reason, it cannot be said that China is trying to steal a role from the EU, both economically and politically.

  1. How do you evaluate the approaches of Balkan states to cooperation with China?

EU members and non-EU Balkan countries can easily say that they are part of the platform of 17+1 Cooperation with China. In addition, it is seen that Serbia, one of the states in the region, has developed closer relations with China. Because there are mega projects carried out by China in the country. In addition, there are investments in Slovenia, which is an EU member.  Moreover, China has several projects planned in Bosnia and Herzegovina. But they do not seem to look like they will be completed. Because there have been some issues with EU criteria and global standards. Therefore, it can be stated that Balkan countries are in cooperation with China, but it cannot be ignored that the EU is in a much different position.

  1. What would you say about the effects of the Russia-Ukraine War on China’s Balkan policy?

It is seen that China’s positive effect stems from its diplomacy, which uses a soft power element. However, in general, China is losing ground in the region, contrary to popular belief. It can be said that Serbia plays a different role here, but this is a constant problem in the Balkans.


Amel KOVACEVIC

Amel KOVACEVIC is the CEO of the United Bank of Albania. He has a 25-year professional career in finance, banking, and diplomacy. Kovacevic served as the Minister of Finance of Bosnia and Herzegovina between 2018-2020, and the Ambassador of Bosnia and Herzegovina to China and Mongolia between 2010-2013.

Sibel MAZREK
Lisans eğitimini Gazi Üniversitesi İletişim Fakültesi'nde tamamlayan Sibel Mazrek, yüksek lisans eğitimine Ankara Hacı Bayram Veli Üniversitesi Lisansüstü Eğitim Enstitüsü'nde Gazetecilik Ana Bilim Dalı'nda devam etmektedir. Çeşitli medya kuruluşlarında muhabirlik, spikerlik sunuculuk görevlerini üstlenen Mazrek, ANKASAM'da Medya Koordinatörü olarak çalışmalarına devam etmektedir.