Facebook Twitter Instagram Youtube LinkedIn Telegram

Analyses

Serbia wants to be an EU member, but it likes China better

ChinaSerbia
©scmp.com   |  

 China has become, overnight, Serbia’s best friend. Belgrade’s option for Beijing might seem a bit bizarre at first glance, considering that two other important partners, Russia and the EU, are relegated to second positions. Russia has been, in the past decades, Serbia’s most important backer, standing by its side, in the name of Slavic and Orthodox brotherhood, even during the times when Belgrade was isolated by the West. The EU is Serbia’s most important donner and trading partner, but also the future it’s striving for, given the country’s statute as a candidate country. The option for China is connected to Belgrade domestic and foreign policy objectives. As it seeks to show that it has an alternative to the West, Belgrade has chosen the more relevant power, which is on the rise, unlike a Russia marked by isolation and crisis. China, in its turn, is interested to have bridge help that would gain it backdoor access to the European markets.

Soft power through vaccine diplomacy

The process of vaccination against the covid-19 virus has recently begun in Serbia. What is interesting in the case of Serbia is that the citizens have the opportunity to decide which vaccine they want to be vaccinated with. There are several vaccines on offer such as Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sputnik V and Sinopharm. However, so far only limited doses of Pfizer and Sputnik V vaccines have arrived, while the highest doses (1 million) have arrived from the Chinese manufacturer Sinopharm. While vaccines from the West are late in their delivery and are very limited, China has once again used the opportunity to impose itself as a major humanitarian player in this pandemic. Even those citizens whose choice was the vaccine from the West, are increasingly deciding to receive the Chinese vaccine because it is uncertain when and how many doses of Western vaccines will arrive in Serbia.

Although the corona virus epidemic spread from China, this health crisis has given rise to a new "steel" friendship between Serbia and China. Serbia is one of the first countries in Europe to receive Chinese aid and experts, and that cooperation has continued to deepen with the procurement of Chinese vaccines. For now, China's policy comes down to filling in any space left by Western partners.

The process of procurement of the vaccines in Serbia also shows the continuation of the undefined foreign policy, i.e. balancing between the East and the West. Even on the example of vaccines, President Vučić wants to show that he does not depend on any foreign partner, but that his goal is to gain as much as possible on the international market by negotiating with different parties. As during the donations of the EU, Russia, China and other partners that arrived in Serbia during the pandemic, so today the greatest attention in the Serbian media is paid to China. In the case of aid or vaccines from the West, the media report modestly without any sensationalism, while in the case of China, they are greeted at the airport with a live broadcast on television and sensationalism in the pro-regime media. In this way, the President of Serbia makes it known to his partners in the West that he can always turn to China, Russia or some other power in the East. Aleksandar Vučić confirmed Serbia's partnership with China when he personally received a million doses of vaccines from China at the Belgrade airport and announced that he would receive the vaccine from the Chinese manufacturer Sinopharm. China basically took over the role of the main donor from Russia during the pandemic in the eyes of the citizens of Serbia.

Heavy rotation in the state media: China unseats Russia

Thanks to the government control of almost all televisions and daily newspapers, we have seen how easy it is to create a new narrative or manipulate information. Almost overnight, China became the greatest friend of the Serbian people with its humanitarian role during the health crisis. The aid that Serbia received from China is kept a secret, so we will never know how much of that aid is real, and how much Serbia had to buy equipment that was presented to the public as a donation. Even today, it is not known in Serbia how much the vaccines were paid for, and the whole narrative is created as if Serbia is constantly receiving Chinese help for free. On the other hand, China very wisely uses every opportunity to strengthen its influence in Serbia and the region. According to public opinion polls, the citizens of Serbia have a better perception of China and the vast majority believe that its influence is positive, while they think that China is a bigger donor and economic partner than the EU, which does not coincide with the facts. Although the EU is the largest donor and economic partner, since the beginning of the pandemic in Serbia, China has been falsely portrayed by Serbian politicians as the most important actor helping Serbia in the fight against the virus.

In this case, the interests of the President of Serbia and the President of China overlapped - Vučić thus shows the domestic public that Serbia has friends among the world's greatest powers and trying to strengthen his position in the West, while the Chinese President is working to improve China's image in the world presenting it as a humanitarian force instead of the country from which the virus originated. However, what is especially interesting when it comes to Serbia's attitude towards the great powers, and especially towards those who are in favor of it, is the way in which Russia was easily forgotten as the greatest friend of Serbs. Vučić understood that the West takes China much more seriously than Russia, so strategically this may be a good move for Vučić if he plays on raising his price at the international level.

In the same way in which the tabloids and state officials treated Russia earlier, raising it to the heavens, it is happening today towards China, which has replaced Russia in that role. The precondition for such treatment is China's support for Serbia on the issue of Kosovo, but also much more materially tangible cooperation that exists between Serbia and China than was the case with Russia. Although the number of Chinese investments in Serbia has increased, the number of loans that Serbia takes, which will have to be repaid under very unfavorable conditions, is increasing too. It is not a problem for the ruling elites in the short term, but will become an issue when loans fall due.

In the last few months, China has been the most visible in Serbian foreign policy. From the economic point of view, China is good for Vučić’s promotion because he can present himself as a person who enabled the inflow of Chinese capital into Serbia. There has been a change in Serbia's foreign policy behavior, with the ruling elites no longer hesitating to support China on some sensitive issues, such as China's relations with Hong Kong. The President of Serbia went a step further and sent a letter of support to China in preserving its own sovereignty and security, although this support does not mean much to China, but it helps it to brand itself as a great world power.

The EU pays the money, China gets to look good, Serbia becomes a bridgehead

If we were to analyze China's interest in giving Serbia such disproportionate attention in relation to the rest of Europe, it is that Serbia represents an open door to China to the rest of Europe. As a candidate country for the EU membership, Serbia has a unique position because the rules do not apply to it as to member states, while it has access to the European market. Such a position of Serbia is a test for China to see how much it can penetrate into the European markets.

During the last months in Serbia, there were almost no days when we could not read in the news that state officials, together with the Chinese ambassador to Serbia, visited some of the infrastructure projects or factories. If we know that foreign investments are the most important part of Vučić's policy of maintaining economic and social stability, then China is certainly high on the list of priorities.

The European Union and Western countries have been the largest foreign donors and investors in Serbia for the last 20 years, but the citizens of Serbia have never been told the facts and real data about that aid. Instead, the Serbian authorities have always represented Russia as their greatest friend, and citizens have always cited Russia as their greatest donor in opinion polls. During the epidemic, this situation changed, so today the citizens of Serbia think that China is the biggest donor and investor. According to the research of the Institute for European Affairs, today 40% of Serbian citizens consider China the largest donor, followed by the EU 17.6% and Russia 14.6%.

These data confirm the thesis that the government has the greatest power and responsibility in creating public opinion and shaping the attitudes of citizens. However, no government in Serbia has tried to create such a positive narrative towards the West, which is in fact the largest donor and investor. In a recent interview with the Radio Free Europe, the President of Serbia said that the EU is the largest donor and investor despite the help that arrived from China, but the President of Serbia would never say that in such a way on a television with a national frequency. Instead, the West is always presented in Serbia as something bad, as a force that has taken Kosovo away and that hinders progress of Serbia, while Russia and China are always presented as protectors of Serbia and its interests.

Propaganda de Razboi - Razboi in UCRAINA
Other articles
Georgia risks compromising its relation with the West and returning to Russia's orbit if ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili dies in prison

Georgia risks compromising its relation with the West and returning to Russia's orbit if ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili dies in prison

Over the past year, the health of the former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is serving a six-year prison sentence, has been a major topic of political debate both inside and outside of Georgia. The opposition and Saakashvili's lawyers say he should be transferred to a European clinic to be treated for mental illness, personality deterioration and severe depression. The government claims that the former president is faking it. Finally, signals are coming from Brussels that if Mikheil Saakashvili dies in detention, Georgia's European future could be jeopardized.

Volodymyr Zelensky’s messages to the world: calls for help, references to political symbols and historical events, denouncement of Russia’s war crimes

Volodymyr Zelensky’s messages to the world: calls for help, references to political symbols and historical events, denouncement of Russia’s war crimes

Zelensky spoke up for Ukraine in front of numerous legislative and international bodies. Each time, the message carried a call for help and a plea to stop Russia. The speeches that conveyed this message were adapted to the specific audiences Zelensky addressed, including references to historical figures and events, as well as shared ideas and values.

Russian independent media on the war in Ukraine

Russian independent media on the war in Ukraine

Despite the government's censorship and the triumphant image of the war that the Kremlin sells to the public, the Russian independent media is trying to accurately report on both what is happening on the ground and the possible consequences of Vladimir Putin's war.

Vuk Velebit

28 Jan 2021

Updated at: 28 Jan 2021 03:29:43
Vuk Velebit

Follow us on Google News

7 minutes read
  • The health crisis has given rise to a new "steel" friendship between Serbia and China. Serbia is one of the first countries in Europe to receive Chinese aid and experts, and that cooperation has continued to deepen with the procurement of Chinese vaccines. For now, China's policy comes down to filling in any space left by Western partners.
  • Thanks to the government control of almost all televisions and daily newspapers, we have seen how easy it is to create a new narrative or manipulate information. Almost overnight, China became the greatest friend of the Serbian people with its humanitarian role during the health crisis. The aid that Serbia received from China is kept a secret, so we will never know how much of that aid is real, and how much Serbia had to buy equipment that was presented to the public as a donation.
  • the interests of the President of Serbia and the President of China overlapped - Vučić thus shows the domestic public that Serbia has friends among the world's greatest powers and trying to strengthen his position in the West, while the Chinese President is working to improve China's image in the world presenting it as a humanitarian force instead of the country from which the virus originated. However, what is especially interesting when it comes to Serbia's attitude towards the great powers, and especially towards those who are in favor of it, is the way in which Russia was easily forgotten as the greatest friend of Serbs. Vučić understood that the West takes China much more seriously than Russia.
  • If we were to analyze China's interest in giving Serbia such disproportionate attention in relation to the rest of Europe, it is that Serbia represents an open door to China to the rest of Europe. As a candidate country for the EU membership, Serbia has a unique position because the rules do not apply to it as to member states, while it has access to the European market. Such a position of Serbia is a test for China to see how much it can penetrate into the European markets.
The Russian independent media writes about who killed Ukrainians in Dnipro and how the Putin regime uses fear to serve its interests
The Russian independent media writes about who killed Ukrainians in Dnipro and how the Putin regime uses fear to serve its interests

“In Russia, journalists don’t ask questions”, one officer suspected of having played a part in the bombing of a residential building in the Ukrainian city of Dnipro told a journalist. The Russian independent media also says that the Kremlin’s efforts to increase the size of its army are doomed to fail, and describes how the Putin regime is trying to keep the Russians in check and strike fear into the international community.

Mariana Vasilache
Mariana Vasilache
23 Jan 2023
Georgia risks compromising its relation with the West and returning to Russia's orbit if ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili dies in prison
Georgia risks compromising its relation with the West and returning to Russia's orbit if ex-president Mikheil Saakashvili dies in prison

Over the past year, the health of the former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is serving a six-year prison sentence, has been a major topic of political debate both inside and outside of Georgia. The opposition and Saakashvili's lawyers say he should be transferred to a European clinic to be treated for mental illness, personality deterioration and severe depression. The government claims that the former president is faking it. Finally, signals are coming from Brussels that if Mikheil Saakashvili dies in detention, Georgia's European future could be jeopardized.

Diana Shanava
Diana Shanava
20 Jan 2023
The Russian independent media writes about the massacre in Makiivka, the Russification of deported Ukrainian children and a new arms race
The Russian independent media writes about the massacre in Makiivka, the Russification of deported Ukrainian children and a new arms race

The Russian authorities have for the first time admitted to sustaining heavy losses following a Ukrainian attack, and the shift in the communication strategy seems to be meant to prevent a scandal, the Russian independent media writes. Independent journalists also discuss the Russification of Ukrainian children deported to Russia and the arms race triggered in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine.

Mariana Vasilache
Mariana Vasilache
13 Jan 2023
The Estonian route: while trying to get to Europe, thousands of Ukrainian refugees are forced to go East to avoid the fighting
The Estonian route: while trying to get to Europe, thousands of Ukrainian refugees are forced to go East to avoid the fighting

Estonian city Narva and Russia’s Ivangorod are connected by a Friendship Bridge, a name that sounds quite ironic nowadays when many Ukrainian refugees use the bridge to make their way to Europe. They had to go East, then North, as their route West was blocked by the fighting. A network of Russian and Estonian volunteers has been helping these refugees. While some continue towards other European countries, many decided to stay in the small Baltic country, which is starting to feel overwhelmed.

Olesja Lagashina
Olesja Lagashina
12 Jan 2023