The Washington Agreement' signed by the United States, Kosovo, and Serbia in the Oval Office in September 2020 brought to the fore China's influence in the Western Balkans (WB) required signing parties to make a commitment to "prohibit the use of 5G equipment supplied by untrusted vendors in their communication networks". Although not mentioned specifically, it is widely accepted that the phrase "untrusted vendors" is a reference to China and especially Huawei - presenting the first case in which the U.S. included the issue of China in what can be called a multilateral agreement and the first concrete action towards recognizing its influence in the WB. At a time when the international order is marked by geopolitical uncertainty , the role of external actors is gaining renewed importance in the WB, a region still grappling with pressing development needs, unresolved disputes of the past, and fragile democratic institutions. A rising China is urging the new US administration to review its global strategic approach while the trans - Atlantic alliance struggles to muster a unified stance to maintain influence, protect core interests, and safeguard liberal values. These dynamics are being reflected in the WB where China's expanding footprint threatens to boost the authoritarian tendencies of local political elites, challenge the European Union (EU) accession process, and contribute to further democratic backsliding. China's interest in WB is primarily tied with its goal to penetrate the European market. Although China's engagement occurs within the broader framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the 16 + 1 format, its presence and influence in WB is not uniformly spread. China treads carefully in its choice of investments while establishing a presence in countries where it faces path of least resistance.
The report can be found here.