PRC Influence and Interference in Serbia
Since China’s Reform and Opening policy in the late 1970s, perhaps the greatest driver of PRC policy toward Serbia has been a mutual preference by both countries’ for a strong leader who can grow the country’s economy, control information, and assert authority over “renegade” territories (e.g. Taiwan, Kosovo). In general, the PRC’s policy toward Serbia is focused on using economic soft power and political sharp power to realize market-driven goals (e.g. strategic connections to markets in Western Europe) and politically influential objectives (e.g. keeping politicians who sympathize with the PRC in power).
In 1955, China established diplomatic relations with the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY). As the SFRY began to dissolve in the early 1990s, breaking into its constituent parts, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia formed as a partial successor state. China maintained its relations as the country became Serbia and Montenegro in 2003 and the Republic of Serbia in 2006. In 2009, China upgraded its relations with Serbia to a strategic partnership [战略伙伴关系]. In 2016, during Xi Jinping’s visit to Serbia, leaders from both countries signed a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership [全面战略伙伴关系] agreement and committed to being “all-weather friends” [全天候的朋友]. This is significant because it, once again, upgraded the two country’s relationship and reflects a desire from both countries to increase and deepen cooperation, especially with regards to projects that fall under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and mutual desires to control separatists.
Since Serbia’s leadership helps to control information, China also benefits from the desire of Serbia’s political elites to project a positive image of China within its society. China sees this as a significant advantage because it derives value from a European country speaking favorably about China.
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