Analysis of the News: “A step comparable to BRICS membership: The significance of the statement signed by Xi and Vučić”

May 2024.

As part of the program Regional Initiative for combating disinformation “Western Balkans Combatting disinformation Center: Exposing malicious influences through fact-checking and Analytical Journalism“, we present you a new analysis of fake news and disinformation narratives.

A step comparable to BRICS membership: The significance of the statement signed by Xi and Vučić

Chinese President Xi Jinping was warmly welcomed at the Nikola Tesla Airport on Tuesday evening, May 7. The Chinese president came to Europe to visit Hungary, France and Serbia, and the media say that this choice of countries in the small European tour of the Chinese president were very carefully selected.

To begin with, one should bear in mind how the arrival of the Chinese president was presented in the media. On RTS, this was done by interrupting the Eurovision semi-final program, to report that Si and his delegation had landed in Belgrade and were welcomed by the Serbian Army Guard and the President of Serbia personally. Such a theatrical arrival speaks of how important the arrival of Xi to Serbia is for the Serbian authorities. As a result, the next day, the streets in the centre of Belgrade were closed so that the Chinese president could pass through the city unhindered. Given that such situations did not occur when European officials came to Serbia, we can conclude that with such moves, the Serbian authorities are still sending a loud foreign policy message about who their strategic partners are.

The President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, and the President of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, signed the Joint Statement between the Republic of Serbia and the People’s Republic of China on deepening and raising the comprehensive strategic partnership and building a Serbia-China community with a shared future in the new era, and 28 cooperation documents were exchanged at the ceremony, as RT reports. Balkans. Given that in the following days, media attention was focused exclusively on Xi and Vučić, it was to be expected that the content of those documents would be explained and what exactly the deepening of cooperation in the mentioned areas means for the Republic of Serbia, but that did not happen.

According to the Euronews portal, Minister of Information and Telecommunications Dejan Ristic and Director of the National Commission for Development and Reforms Dženg Šanđija exchanged a Memorandum of Exchange on strengthening cooperation in the field of digital economy between the Ministry of Information and Telecommunications of Serbia and the National Data Administration of China. Given that, we know that in China, all private data and transactions are strictly controlled and under constant surveillance, the question remains of what consequences this will have for Serbia if this cooperation intensifies after the signed memorandum.

Additionally, several memorandums of understanding were signed between television companies, news agencies and radio stations between Serbia and China. The General Director of the TANJUG News Agency, Manja Grcic, and the Director of the Xinhua Agency, Fu Hua, exchanged an Agreement on the exchange of news and cooperation between the TANJUG News Agency and the Xinhua News Agency. Considering that all media in China are controlled by the state or the Communist Party, as is the case in Russia, it is concerning how narratives in Serbia will be shaped after the signing of the mentioned agreements. Taking into account that Serbia is a democratic country with a strategic goal of joining the European Union, agreements on the exchange of news with an authoritarian state do Serbia no favours in the process of negotiations concerning media freedom, independent and democratic institutions.

“Diplomat Vladimir Kršljanin, author of the book “New World – Serbia, Russia, China – The future that has begun”, notes that the signing of the statement is “a significant step in Serbia’s foreign policy”, but also a confirmation of the fact that the world is changing and that the leaders of that new world are Russia and China”. He also adds that “Serbia’s accession to this Chinese concept is part of a global trend” and that the signing of this agreement could be compared to the accession to BRICS, which, according to the diplomat, we will not have to wait long, according to RT.

It is dangerous to compare the declaration of partnership with the accession to a new economic order and alliance, which would completely change Serbia’s existing strategic goals. In the National Security Strategy of the Republic of Serbia, accession to the European Union is unequivocally highlighted, which still remains the official policy of the Government of the Republic of Serbia. Narratives about abandoning the European path and joining BRICS, propagated by diplomat Kršljanin (who is also a Russian citizen and former adviser to Slobodan Milošević during the process at the Hague Tribunal) may seem confusing, in addition to being inaccurate.

One often gets the impression that China is Serbia’s biggest trading partner, which is what both pro-Russian and pro-government media write about. Such news was not missing this time either, and the text of RT mentions that “China is the most important investor, and this is indicated by the fact that direct foreign investments from that country in Serbia amount to 5.54 billion euros.” Of course, the text does not mention that in the period from 2010 to 2022, the European Union was a far more significant investor in Serbia, with foreign direct investments amounting to 59% of total investments, while FDI from the Republic of China amounted to only 9%. according to the report of the National Bank of Serbia.

Regime media can influence the formation of citizen’s awareness of the economic situation in the Republic of Serbia, however, the information that appears in the Russian media in the Serbian language is an example of pure disinformation that is marketed to create a false image of who is the most important trading partner of Serbia.

Author: Nataša Stanojević