In the recent context of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War; Serbia, with its national interests towards Kosovo at the forefront, has deepened its strategic partnership with China.
Introduction and Context
The 2019 National Security Strategy (NSS) of the Republic of Serbia highlights the different national interests that Serbia possesses. Among them, it is the interest of “preserving its sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity” and the idea of “survival”, connected with the issue of Kosovo and its unilateral declaration of independence; which is given the greatest attention throughout the official document.
According to the 2019 NSS and Serbia’s current leadership, it is not only Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence and other numerous threats related to the latter but also Pristina’s bid to join international and regional structures such as NATO; the greatest threat to the very existence of the Republic of Serbia as a State.
Under these circumstances and in the recent context of the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War; Serbia, with its national interests towards Kosovo at the forefront, has deepened its strategic partnership with China.
Change of alliances and Belgrade’s pragmatic turn: From Moscow to Beijing
China’s key role in Serbia’s most important question: The Kosovo-Taiwan Analogy
Manifested through Serbia’s foreign policy (FP) and its NSS, China represents one of Serbia’s main pillars regarding its international relations. Indeed and within the specific issue of Kosovo, Beijing’s position has been constant throughout the years and its relevance has been increasing.
China, as a permanent member of the UNSC which is committed to upholding the implementation of Resolution 1244 of the UNSC, insists on protecting Serbia’s territorial integrity. Thus, Beijing does not recognize Kosovo’s independence nor has established diplomatic ties with the latter.
Due to China’s desire to frustrate any separatist aspirations that might jeopardize its “One-China policy” and the fact that Serbia and China look the same way at the position of Kosovo and Taiwan respectively; Beijing has drawn a powerful analogy between both territorial disputes.
Thus, this mentioned Chinese policy not only satisfies Belgrade’s national needs vis-à-vis the Kosovo question but also serves Beijing’s intention to secure and increase the credibility and legitimacy of its One-China policy.
Belgrade’s changing relations with Russia as the main trigger of Serbia’s greater rapprochement with China
As a direct consequence of the outbreak of the Russo-Ukrainian War, Belgrade has been facing major pressure from the West (led by the US and the EU) to condemn Russia’s invasion and to distance itself from Moscow.
Despite Russia being Serbia’s traditional international ally (both are Slavic and Orthodox) and its main supporter in the Kosovo issue; Belgrade, without imposing economic sanctions, finally joined the UN resolution condemning Moscow’s attacks.
Due to the EU’s insistence and the fact that Moscow would now have less time and resources to devote to the protection of Serbia’s national interests (mainly within the Kosovo issue); Belgrade recently decided to distance itself from its traditional Slavic ally.
This groundbreaking novel shift taken by Belgrade can be further explained by specific developments such as Russia’s organized referenda in the Ukrainian eastern territories and the recent scenario in which Moscow could potentially “trade” Kosovo for Crimea. The fear of losing such relevant support and its biggest ally vis-à-vis Kosovo has led Belgrade to look for another major power and UNSC member that could satisfy its need of preserving its territorial integrity: China.
Conclusion and Reflections
Although Belgrade is now distancing itself from its historical and traditional closest ally and also major supporter within the Kosovo dispute (Russia); Serbia’s new strategy (based on a closer rapprochement with China) does possess its raison d’être. Bearing in mind that joining the EU is one of Belgrade’s main national interests and that Serbia is still an official EU candidate, maintaining its ties with Russia seemed highly unfeasible and irreconcilable with the mentioned ambition.
As a result of the Russo-Ukrainian war and its respective consequences, it appears that Russia would have highly likely not been able and/or willing to maintain its support towards Serbia regarding Kosovo. The organization of the mentioned plebiscites within Ukrainian territory can be seen as highly incompatible with embracing at the same time a position against unilateral declarations of independence and in favour of respecting countries’ territorial integrity and international law.
Thus, it cannot be denied that Russia’s credibility and legitimacy for engaging in disputes such as Kosovo’s were heavily damaged. This perfectly explains why Serbia felt the need to change its ally and why it coherently turned to Beijing.
Finally, despite the complex environment dominated by the uncertainty that Serbia and its government are facing; President Vucic has been able to adopt a virtuous balance strategy with Serbia’s national interest at the forefront. Indeed, not only has President Vucic’s strategy an evident rationale, but it seems that it is managing and will manage to effectively continue protecting Serbia’s position vis-á-vis Kosovo (at least in the sense of being able to maintain the status quo).
However and unsurprisingly, Western representatives have often criticized Belgrade for its high level of cooperation with Beijing. Indeed, Serbia’s strategic siding with China, which has also been the case in the economic and defence sphere, could complicate Belgrade’s accession to the EU. This could create a great dilemma between the latter national ambition of Serbia and its recently embraced foreign policy strategy, compromising at least one of two mentioned national priorities (territorial integrity vis-à-vis Kosovo and EU accession).
NOTA: Los planteamientos e ideas contenidas en los artículos de análisis y opinión son responsabilidad exclusiva, en cada caso, del analista, sin que necesariamente representen las ideas de GEOPOL 21.