Bosnia and Herzegovina's commitment to building further bilateral ties with China

The BiH government has repeatedly stressed the importance of nurturing and advancing relations with China, both bilaterally and within various multilateral settings.

After landing at Pudong International Airport I was pleasantly surprised with Chinese border police’s reaction when examining my passport.

After scanning the front page, he enthusiastically noticed it was the first Bosnian passport he had ever seen, and was additionally astonished that our two countries have a visa-free regime. Later, I witnessed the same level of amazement when I checked into my hotel and visited several banks.

But I found it quite difficult to explain to some of the Fudan University students where I came from. It was pretty hard to associate my small and population-wise insignificant country with anything they presumably knew about Europe.

I tried a couple of things. First, an example of Sarajevo, the Bosnian-Herzegovinian (BiH) capital, the place where Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914, which marked the beginning of the World War I. I also used examples of many famous Yugoslav movies, such as “Valter brani Sarajevo” (“Valter defends Sarajevo,” made in 1972), which were very popular in China in the 1970s and 1980s. Finally, I tried to link Bosnia and Herzegovina with the Sarajevo Olympic Games of 1984.

Although all of the aforementioned associations worked with some friends, colleagues and some senior professors at Fudan University, the students were unable to relate or associate BiH to anything they knew about Europe. One of the students told me it would be best to explain the location of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country situated between Croatia and Serbia.

Evolving relations

Bilateral diplomatic relations between China and BiH were established in April, 1995. The two countries have since steadily worked on building friendly relations.

The BiH government has repeatedly stressed the importance of nurturing and advancing relations with China, both bilaterally and within various multilateral settings.

Testament of this commitment is several highest-level visits to China from senior BiH officials.

Many bilateral agreements have been signed between the two countries, including those on economy, defense and culture. Notable examples are agreements on non-refundable aid for the education of BiH public officials and assistance in providing IT and education equipment. Representatives and delegations of both governments are currently working on readmission and air traffic agreements, as well as various developing cooperation protocols between different ministries, involving justice, medicine, tourism, education, traffic and energy.

The most recent bilateral agreement, which entered into force on May 29, 2018, was on a mutual visa-free regime that allows holders of valid ordinary passports of both countries to enter each other’s country for up to 90 days within any 180-day period. The agreement was signed in November of 2017 during the sixth meeting between heads of the government of China and 16 Central and Eastern European Countries in Budapest, Hungary.

As a result, the number of Chinese tourists to BiH has risen extraordinarily in the third quarter of this year, ranking fifth place behind only those from Croatia, Serbia, Turkey and Slovenia.

The cooperation of China with the 16 Central and Eastern European countries within “The 16+1 Framework” is also very important for BiH. BiH is supporting the Belt and Road Initiative which will connect more than 70 countries in Asia and Europe and thus encourages practically a new “Silk Road.”

As a tangible result of this initiative, COSCO Shipping Lines, China’s biggest shipping company, with headquarters in Shanghai and more than 1,100 vessels, has recently opened an office in Sarajevo, which is their fourth regional office in the Balkans. BiH is also cooperating with China within the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, as well as within other relevant international forums.

There are many ways in which the two countries can advance their relationship in the future. The Chinese Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina Chen Bo identified three main prongs of future cooperation: the synergy of policies, focus on new investments opportunities and the enhancement of multilateral forums.

China is the largest trading partner for over a hundred countries in the world. However it is not even among the top 10 trading partners in BiH.

Jasmin Hasic, visiting scholar at Fudan Development Institute, is an assistant professor at International Burch University in Sarajevo, where he serves as Head of the International Relations and European Studies Department. Before joining the academe, he had worked at various government institutions and several non-governmental organizations.

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