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China’s “Hub-and-Spoke” Strategy in the Balkans

As China’s funding for infrastructure and other investments expands along its Belt and Road Initiative, its economic and political influence is growing in the Western Balkans, a strategically contested area on the EU’s periphery. This report, part of a two-year effort to track Chinese economic influence in the region, draws from a new CSIS dataset to identify key trends, including China’s geographic and sectoral priorities, low project completion rates, and an emerging second wave of digital investments.

European Fault Lines and Chinese Crossroads

The European Commission has become increasingly critical of various Chinese investments within the EU, fueling an ongoing debate within Europe about investment screening. While the EU released a framework for foreign investment screening implicitly aimed at China in November 2018, the debate has exposed cross-cutting divisions within Europe. Looking ahead to 2019, we should not expect a clear resolution anytime soon.

China’s Expanding Presence in Southeast Europe

Since its launch in 2013, governments across Europe have made their interest in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) clear. At present, 17 EU member states are members of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). The 16+1 framework — established by China in Central, Eastern, and Southeast Europe — includes eleven EU-member states and five countries from the Western Balkans. Greece has officially applied to join as the seventeenth member of the framework.

China’s “16+1” Equals Much Ado About Nothing?

Nowhere else in Europe has China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) been met with quite such a warm embrace as in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). China’s large-scale financing of highways, railways, ports, and other infrastructure to better connect China to Southeast Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe has clearly struck a chord with CEE leaders.