The Digital Silk Road (DSR), an important component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is an increasingly scrutinized aspect of China’s foreign policy toolbox that combines the efforts of the Chinese government and Chinese tech companies. The DSR covers a wide array of areas, ranging from telecommunications networks, to ‘Smart City’ projects, to e-commerce, to Chinese satellite navigation systems.

Despite its framing as a benign investment and tech-focused cooperation initiative by China, it is increasingly perceived as a vehicle for exporting techno-autocratic governance that provides crucial tools to undemocratic leaders to tighten their grip on civil society.

This brand new policy paper focuses on one aspect of DSR – Chinese companies’ involvement in the rollout of 5G networks. The research focuses specifically on the countries of Western Balkans – Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and Albania – surveying the situation on the ground in regard to acceptance of DSR by local governments and provides recommendations to stakeholders.

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