In April 2012, just a year before Xi became president, China launched the 16+1 initiative, a platform bringing together China and 11 EU member countries in Eastern Europe as well as five candidate states in the Western Balkans. There has been no shortage of interest in this forum on the Balkans. In 2018, Sofia hosted the forum; this year, it was held in Croatia's historic town of Dubrovnik. Belgrade and Bucharest have had their turns too in past years. Lately, Greece, too, has made an effort to join this grouping of post-communist states, which has been rebranded 17+1.
This year, a number of top officials from the Balkans made the lengthy trip to Beijing. In April, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic met Xi in the Chinese capital; a day later Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras followed suit. In May, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos also showed up in Beijing. In July, Bulgarian President Rumen Radev paid an official visit, too.
The region's interest in Chinese investments, however, has not gone unnoticed. Officials and China-watchers in the EU, wary of Beijing's policy to maximise its clout through divide-and-conquer tactics, have been voicing concern.