Milica Kovacevic, 2014, Adriatic Sea discussed on Morning Edition

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25 miles section of highway that threatens to tape Montenegro's economy starts here in the mountains outside the capital pulled Koryttseva multi Lane expressway. His line was scaffolding. The Chinese construction company hasn't finished it yet, so cars are using the old road underneath it. It hasn't been paid for yet either. The first payment on the billion dollar loan is due in July, and it's unclear whether Montenegro will be able to pay China back. What's worse, says former Justice Minister Dragan So she once completed the road won't lead anywhere anyway. Not yet. At least we make a drug. So it is a highway from nothing to nothing. That's because the road Peters out in the middle of the mountains, a tiny 25 mile section of a proposed 270 mile highway that aims to connect Montenegro's port of bar on the Adriatic Sea. With Belgrade, the capital of neighbouring Serbia. Montenegro's government says the first section alone put it in so much debt that it can no longer afford to build the rest of it. And I think that we will pay not maybe Your generation but future generations, But I don't think that is the problem from China. That is our bad decision. He's not the only one blaming the previous government for catapulting the country into historic debt with this project, which was signed in 2014 with the Chinese state contractor and funded by a Chinese state Bank. Earlier this spring, Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister John Abbott, Soviet spoke to European media, in an effort to appeal to the European Union to come to Montenegro's rescue. Montenegro aims to be an EU member. One day we are now victim. All the extremely bad decision of the former government. A copy of the loan contract reviewed by NPR shows that if Montenegro is not able to repay China's state owned Export Import Bank on time, the bank could seize land inside Montenegro. As long as it doesn't belong to the military or is used for diplomatic purposes. In addition, Montenegro's former government signed off on allowing a Chinese government court to have the final say on the execution of the contract. Deputy Prime minister Abbott Soviet told Euronews in May. These terms are incredulous and I don't understand what kind of persons are officials for the former government, which signed the agreement that if something kept keep pathetically someone can take Your land. This is not normal. This is out of any kind of logic of national interest. Another source of confusion is why China was interested in this project in the first place. For years. Montenegro, which has poor infrastructure had plans to build this highway, says Milica Kovacevic. But European banks weren't interested because they didn't think they'd be paid back. Kovacevich, president of the Center for Democratic Transition in both Dorita has spent her career studying Russian investment and influence in Montenegro. We completely understand Russian policy or this region, and it didn't change for hundreds of years. It was never too occupied. But it was to destabilize and to prevent from any Western integration. That was at the time. Whether that was also you can get him empire or now EU or NATO. So we knew the goals. We could prepare for that for China. I don't think that anyone understands what is the final goal, But Stefan Vladislav Iev thinks he knows. For years the foreign policy analyst has kept track of Chinese funded projects in his home country of Serbia. And he sees broader political goals for Beijing, especially in the case of Montenegro, where, despite its pleased to the EU, Brussels refused to help repay its loan to China. This was a good chance for the Brussels to gain some ground in the region. It was a good chance for Brussels to show with dedication to the region, he says. By not helping Montenegro, the EU has seated potential influence to China, whose presence there underlies a broader political plan. The fact that the Western Balkan countries are not part of the European Union give them the opportunity to create their foreign policies and their national policies outside of the EU s framework. So it's uh easy way in to the European territory. It is the easy way in to establishing us influence in the immediate neighborhood of the European Union, and that's something he says China has been hard at work at in the region for years. Under its belt and road initiative, Beijing purchased the Greek port of Perez, turning it into the second largest part of the Mediterranean, and it's also constructing billions of dollars worth of highways and railways, including a planned high speed railway. Can I think Belgrade and Budapest China's embassy in Montenegro declined an NPR interview request and so did several members of Montenegro's government. Vladislav IV, believes the government's sudden silence after reaching out to the global press when it needed EU help earlier this year, is a sign that it's in talks with Beijing to restructure the terms of the loan. Meanwhile, Chinese construction crews are putting the finishing touches on a toll booth and tunnel of the new stretch of highway Latin Greek Itch and associate at the European Institute for Asian Studies says For all its problems, it is the nicest rode his country has ever seen for Montenegro to have such a highway. It's like buying a Ferrari with the average salary and then you you are thinking about I might not have money for the gas Greek, which is finishing his doctorate thesis on Chinese projects like this one in the Balkans, and he says, all of them have one thing in common. This kind of projects are always political, and it's basically how many things are done in the Balkans. You use the public money to redistribute them to your crony net for for companies and then use it in political purposes and so on. And now, he says, this is made easier with money from a rising superpower eager to wield its influence globally. Earlier this spring, Montenegrin Deputy Prime Minister Abbott Soviet told the press he was open to launching an investigation into alleged corruption among members of the previous government over the Chinese built highway. But that was before he stopped speaking to the international press before his government entered into talks with Beijing over how to repay the money it owes China and so.

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