Sretenovic: Xi Jinping's visit gives hope to Serbia that some controversial decisions in the UN will be prevented

Stanislav Sretenović
Source: Kosovo Online

The visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Serbia is significant on a political level because it gives hope that Chinese influence, especially in the UN, will enable Serbia to at least prevent some very unpleasant and controversial decisions being prepared at the UN level, such as the resolution on Srebrenica, historian Stanislav Sretenovic says for Kosovo Online.

As he explains, the hope is that China will succeed with its authority and influence among small states, in numbers surpassing the influence of Western countries that are eager to push through unpleasant resolutions for Serbia at any cost.

"On the other hand, economically, China plays a significant role, although we must say that the disproportion in economic power between China and Serbia is very large. Serbia does not represent such a significant market for China as the EU does. But China is very important for Serbia, and in that sense, they are developing relations, hoping for new investments," Sretenovic emphasizes, also noting that it is good, but caution is needed on how investments will be repaid to avoid falling into debt servitude.

He highlights that, symbolically, Xi Jinping is arriving on a tragic date, the 25th anniversary of Serbia's bombing by NATO, "which is controversial from the perspective of international law," and on the tragic date when the Chinese embassy was bombed.

"These are also important signals. China is showing Serbia support both symbolically and politically, and Serbia hopes that this Chinese step will contribute to slowing down, if not stopping, the tendency of Western countries to challenge the integrity of Serbian territory and Serbian presence in its southern province of Kosovo and Metohija," he says.

He points out that using such strong words in international relations as "ironclad friendship" hides a certain policy behind them, and Serbia must be aware of that.

Regarding Serbia's significance to China, Sretenovic reminds us that China's view of Serbia is tied to a global perspective China has towards Europe as a continent, not just the EU, and it involves the Belt and Road Initiative.

"China wants to project its influence, strength, and economy globally, especially to Asian, African, and European countries. In that sense, Serbia represents a small but significant link that, due to its geographical position, connects Asia, Africa, and Europe. Through Serbian territory, Chinese economic influence can flow, as China in Europe owns a very significant port it acquired, which is the Port of Piraeus in Greece," Sretenovic says.

He adds that Chinese investments are significant not only in Serbia but also in Hungary.

"At a time when two significant EU countries are withdrawing from the Belt and Road Initiative, I'm primarily referring to Italy's withdrawal and Poland's withdrawal, Hungary remains a significant lever for China, and its southern neighbor Serbia and Serbian southern neighbor Greece represent that wing that, according to Chinese estimates, can play a significant role in further developing Chinese investments and economic penetration," he explains.

He warns that for small countries, it is important that China's economic presence does not bring along too much political influence in the internal politics of these countries.

"Serbian politicians need to be wise and utilize all the benefits of the support Serbia currently has, but also be aware that Chinese investments and Chinese political influence domestically must be placed within certain legal frameworks and not exceed a level that would bring benefit to Serbia," he concludes.

Sretenovic, however, reminds us that this does not apply to China's foreign policy influence because China supports Serbia's integrity, just as Serbia supports China's integrity regarding Taiwan.

"So, a balance, a common interest has been established on the foreign policy level, which may not bring concrete benefits in the field, but at least at the level of international law, symbolism, setting some limits to the omnipotence of Western countries – it can play a role," Sretenovic believes.

China is a partner but also a competitor of the EU

He also notes that France needs China as a significant European country, one of the two engines of the EU (alongside Germany), and that the discussions in Paris were mostly about economic relations, where, he says, significant problems exist.

"But strategically, China needs the EU because China is the only factor that can influence Russia at the moment in terms of calming the war in Ukraine, if not stopping it," he explains.

From an economic perspective, China is a partner of the EU but also a competitor who, as he says, floods the European market with goods, and intervenes with the state in its economic affairs, "which is unacceptable from the perspective of the EU's liberal economy," and does not respect some EU rules on production quality, copyrights, etc.

The visit to France is also symbolic, according to Sretenovic, as it happened on the 60th anniversary of the establishment of Franco-Chinese bilateral relations in 1964, when France, after a very difficult period after the wars in Indochina and Algeria, recognized communist China.