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Today we were excited to accept the invitation to the webinar “From Rule-Taker to Rule-Shaper? China’s Changing Global Role and its Implications for the Western Balkans” organized by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Office in North Macedonia. The webinar was named after the title of the Policy Brief issued by the KA Foundation and the Association for strategy development, research, education and promotion of international values – ESTIMA.

After the opening by Daniel Braun, the official Representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in North Macedonia, and the moderator of the event Zoran Necev from the Institute for Democracy “Societas Civilis” – Skopje, we had the chance to hear the insightful presentations of David Merkle, Desk Officer for China at the Department of European and International Cooperation by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Berlin, Ana Krstinovska, ESTIMA – Association for strategy development, research, education and promotion of international values and current KAS Scholar and Igor Novakovic, International and Security Affairs Centre – ISAC Fund, Belgrade and a former KAS Scholar.

In the Q&A section Just Access e.V. posed two questions:

After the Anchorage meeting last month, China made important steps in the relationship with the Middle East and Russia. A change in the rhetoric towards the West was also noticeable. Were there any changes in the politics towards the Western Balkans?

and

The Western Balkans play a key gate-keeping role in China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Many Balkans States also aspire to join the EU and other Western supranational organisations. What are the common geopolitical and legal measures that Western Balkans States can take in the short, medium and long run to ensure they will not become a battle ground between China and the West, and not lose the benefits from collaboration with both? Are there, for instance, domestic constitutional reforms and UN commitments (e.g. via human rights treaties and environmental conventions), or transcontinental energy and security organisations, that they can start using now to avoid that scenario?

Both questions were answered by Ana Krstinovska.

On the change of Chinese politics towards the Western Balkan Krstinovska doesn´t see the Anchorage meeting as a turning point, as in the case with the Western countries, Russia and the Middle East, but rather the last 17+1 meeting that was held online on the 9th of February. Krstinovksa perceives that there was an emphasis on the countries of the Western Balkans in the guidelines of the summit, after the Baltic states and few other countries downgraded the meeting by sending lower level officials. Krstinovska believes this might be a sign that the countries of the Western Balkans are becoming “China´s sweethearts” in this form of cooperation, but that this still needs to be seen.

Regarding the second question, Krstinovska believes that the countries of the Western Balkans should set precise priorities, and that in the case of North Macedonia the business ties should be enabled and supported, unlike the prospects for cooperation in the security sector for example. She believes that North Macedonia should be vocal and firm about holding the values and commitments in the international fora, to the UN, as well as to the EU, as an aspiring member of the union. It should be clear that any cooperation with third parties should be done on the basis on these values, rules and standards, but she does not see this as a reason for alienation of China. She believes in China´s interest in the stability of these countries and the Chinese support for the EU integration processes.

We are grateful to the organizers for the webinar and to Krstinovska for her answers.