European Western Balkans

Vuksanović: Vaccines as a means of promoting partnership with China and Russia

President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić welcomes the arrival of Chinese vaccines; Photo: The Presidency of Serbia / Dimitrije Goll

BELGRADE – Since the beginning of vaccination in Serbia, President Aleksandar Vučić has personally welcomed contingents of Russian (Sputnik V) and Chinese (Sinofarm) vaccines in the presence of other state officials and pompous media coverage. However, that was not the case with the deliveries of the American-German vaccine Pfizer.

Researcher at Belgrade Centre for Security Policy Vuk Vuksanović told EWB that the president welcomes Chinese and Russian vaccines primarily as a form of domestic political marketing, where he promotes himself as a capable leader who has established partnerships with China and Russia.

“For the government, spreading the Chinese, or previously Russian narrative, pays off more politically. It is a product of the stalemate in EU enlargement, but also a product of the fact that the pro-Russian or pro-Chinese narrative is better sold to the electorate of the ruling party,” Vuksanović explained.

He added that at this moment, the Chinese narrative has absolutely replaced the Russian narrative that dominated a few years ago due to the fact that Russia and Serbia have an opportunistic partnership, where the two countries do not trust each other despite the formal facade of warm rhetoric.

“The Serbian leadership also saw that it could benefit much more from a rising power such as China than from a great power with limits, such as Russia. Also, Belgrade understands that the West takes Beijing much more seriously than Moscow, which motivates the Serbian leadership to strive more for the Chinese card in order to use it as a lever of influence in relation to the West,” Vuksanović pointed out.

The pro-Chinese narrative has been present since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when it was noticeable that the pro-government media uncritically reported on Chinese help with headlines such as “Serbia, don’t cry, China is with you”, “Chinese sent messages of solidarity with Serbia which tighten the throat” and “The unbreakable connection of Belgrade and Beijing.”

On the other hand, the mentioned media negatively reported on the European Union, stating that “Brussels left the Western Balkans in the lurch”, while they reported on EU aid moderately and objectively, without pompous headlines – “EU aid has arrived” or “EU donated funds to Serbia ”.

When asked how the emphasis of the Chinese and Russian narrative through the welcoming ceremonies of the selected vaccines will affect the already negative narrative about the EU that dominates in Serbia, Vuksanović answered that skepticism towards Belgrade’s behavior will certainly increase in Europe.

“However, from the perspective of Belgrade, with and without the Chinese factor, Serbia cannot count on quick EU membership. Therefore, Serbia believes that it does not pay off to terminate cooperation with China, because of something that is not a realistic option at this time, and especially when the Serbian leadership is using the benefits of the Chinese factor at this time, “said Vuksanović.

The President of Serbia even welcomed the first contingent of AstraZeneca vaccines from a British-Swedish pharmaceutical company, on February 21. It remains to be seen whether the president will personally welcome the first vaccines within the COVAX program, which, although incorrect, were presented in the domestic mainstream media as a European Union program.

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