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7 - Formal versus informal Chinese presence: The underbelly of hope in the Western Balkans

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 November 2020

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Summary

Abstract

The turbulent history of the Western Balkans has led to both diverse economic development in the region and complex relationships with China, particularly for ex-Yugoslav countries. Examining the shadow economies associated with local Chinese communities in the region is therefore of particular interest. The aim of this chapter is to analyse the complex interplay of official policies and unofficial rules, regional tensions and global interests, and the local socio-economic problems and international aspirations of countries in the region in terms of their position in the so-called Belt and Road Zone.

Keywords: Chinese presence in Europe, Chinese migrant communities, One Belt One Road, shadow economy

Introduction

The development of the modern world is a history of creating alliances based on ideology and interest, often seemingly spearheaded by opposing centres of power. However, attempting to analyse these processes has long been recognized as difficult, as the very nature of world power is subject to change (Nye, 1990) and any attempt to balance it through the formation of alliances and partnerships is extremely challenging (Walt, 1985). A functionalist approach to international relations would suggest that states can cooperate in limited areas (Rosamond, 2000), which might hold true for contemporary society, but the polarized world that was a reality up until the final decade of the 20th century meant that those without ambitions or prospects for global power were faced with the choice of either taking a side or attempting to remain independent. In today's connected world, the idea of complex interdependence (Keohane and Nye, 1977) appears to be the most viable option, as the development of various relations between different actors is increasing, with power balancing remaining an important albeit less prominent factor. However, when faced with more powerful states, those that are smaller still need to resort to alternative strategies, such as bandwagoning with a stronger partner or spreading their risks through hedging, if balancing or neutrality are not viable options. In these processes, a significant but under-explored field of research concerns the importance of non-state domains, particularly shadow activities, as outlined in the introductory chapter. Informal flows remain by their very definition elusive, and consequently, any thorough investigation aimed at formulating an overarching geopolitical or geo-economic theory is challenging. However, their influence can nonetheless be explored, illustrated well by the empirical cases analysed in this volume.

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Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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