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China’s Aid in the Western Balkans: Supporting Development, Undermining Good Governance

In a brand new CHOICE paper, China’s development assistance to all the countries that make up the Western Balkans is put under the microscope. 

The new study by Ana Krstinovska analyzes the Chinese economic presence in the Western Balkans through the prism of development assistance, a concept used by Beijing itself to classify most of the projects it funds in the region. Interestingly, China’s presence in the Western Balkans has seldom been analyzed from this point of view. Therefore, understanding the basic principles, priorities, and drivers of China’s development cooperation could contribute to a more nuanced and precise understanding of its activities in the Western Balkans. 

The overall focus of this policy paper is to examine the development assistance that China provided to five Western Balkan countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia) and its influence on democratic governance and decision-making in each of these nations. Diving into the data, each analyzed project is verified against official statements and press releases, available project agreements, and media coverage, while building upon data from numerous interviews across all the five countries, as well as the author’s professional experience in the coordination of donor assistance in the Macedonian government. 

The reception of Chinese development assistance differs significantly in each of these respective countries, especially amid differing impacts and the specter of Sino-American tensions. Whereas China’s development assistance is often understood as coming without any conditionality, many loan and grant contracts contain provisions that put the beneficiary country in a subordinate position in the case of a dispute. China’s development assistance is an important instrument in China’s ‘transactional’ diplomacy and can be a powerful foreign policy tool allowing China to control and influence Western Balkan countries’ attitudes on issues of interest to China.

Read the full report for an in-depth data analysis, commentary, and recommendations for remedies to problems presented in this transactional framework. 


Written by

Ana Krstinovska

Dr. Ana Krstinovska is a Research Fellow at CHOICE, President of the North Macedonia-based think tank and consultancy ESTIMA and Research Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy ELIAMEP.