The Development of Sino-Serbian Relations under the Belt and Road Initiative: Forging the ‘Iron Friendship’
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University of Belgrade
Publication date: 2020-07-30
Stosunki Międzynarodowe – International Relations 2019;55(3):21–35
In recent years, Serbia has seemingly been standing out as the leading partner of China in Central and Eastern Europe, and even – relatively speaking – a significant one on a global scale. The two countries state that they share a close and longstanding friendship, which is regularly mentioned in the context of joint ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ projects that are actively being implemented or planned. However, this narrative seems to have emerged – or at least significantly intensified – only after the start of a closer economic cooperation. This paper analyzes the said change in discourse, aiming to establish when it occurred and how far its reach is, with the goal of using the answers to these research questions as a basis for understanding the underlying governing mechanisms. The hypotheses put forward are that the discourse on Sino-Serbian cultural ties emphasizing the idea of a close and long-standing friendship started only after an increase in the political and economic cooperation, and that it is only or mostly present in the official discourse on the two countries’ cooperation. As such, the narrative on Sino-Serbian cultural ties can be explained as an example of the top-down governance of culture, which is in line with the theory on cultural diversity. Tracing the development of Sino-Serbian relations through empirical data, it is shown that the narrative on close cultural ties indeed intensified with an increase in economic cooperation and that the notion of a deep friendship between the two countries has been actively managed since the start of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. The so-called ‘iron friendship’ between the two countries is revealed to be less a deeply-rooted historical reality and more an example of consciously forging a narrative with the purpose of facilitating bilateral cooperation.