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EU in major power struggling with China – Brussels risks ‘losing the Western Balkans’

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China is pouring money into three Balkan states under leader Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure project. China’s Belt and Road Initiative, BRI, is Beijing’s trillion-dollar attempt to secure influence across the world’s most important trade routes. The initiative has alarmed the US so much that it has organised a counter initiative, called the Blue Dot Network in 2019.

Infrastructure projects linked to the BRI are being developed in Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia.

The construction projects that have taken shape in the Western Balkan states have included the development of new motorways.

German chief diplomat Heiko Maas has warned at the EU Foreign Ministers’ meeting that the bloc is in danger of “losing the Western Balkans”.

He said: “We are not the only ones there.

“There are competitors.

“And they are very uncompromising.”

Chinese investment banks have been pouring money into infrastructure projects in the Balkan states that is now competing against EU development money.

However, these generous loans from Bejing have been increasing in recent years, and are worrying policymakers in Brussels.

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The fear is that nations that take part could become locked into debt traps with Chinese investment banks who could take ownership of the infrastructure projects if loans are not repaid.

With these loans, Chinese construction companies have been building highways, bridges, and power plants in these states.

It is alarming many EU policymakers because it is so easy to gain a loan from China that does not require extensive feasibility studies or environmental impact assessments as is usual with EU projects.

These states could sink deeper and deeper into debt, making them more dependent on China.

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For instance, in 2014 Montenegro took out a loan from a Chinese investment bank of 944 million dollars for the construction of a section of the planned motorway from the Adriatic port of Bar to Serbia.

Montenegro is now struggling to pay off the large loan and is urging the EU for help in repaying their debt to Beijing.

Montenegran Vice Prime Minister Dritan Abazovic addressed the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in March and said: “We ask you to help us repay the money so that we can break the Chinese influence.”

In April a spokesperson for the European Commission stated the “EU did not repay loans from third parties.”

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg.

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