"What is the Chinese office doing in Priština?"

According to Western intelligence sources, China poses an increasingly significant threat to global security. It is described as a power seeking dominance and attempting to leverage its economic supremacy to achieve political objectives.
Over the past decade, this communist state has significantly expanded its influence in the Balkans, establishing stronger ties with several governments and focusing on specific sectors such as infrastructure or energy for cooperation. In countries like Serbia, Chinese engagement is visible even in culture, media, and education.
Kosovo is an exception to this model, authorities say. Although it imports goods worth hundreds of millions of euros from China annually, the country has not allowed any significant Chinese investments or other influence.
China does not recognize Kosovo's independence but respects, as it claims, the territorial integrity of Serbia, which according to the Constitution still treats Kosovo as part of its territory.
Consequently, the two countries don't even have diplomatic relations, but China has had a Liaison Office in Kosovo for years, operating under the Embassy of China in Belgrade.
Radio Free Europe (RFE) contacted both of these institutions to inquire about their activities, but did not receive a response.
On May 7th, the RFE team also visited a business building in the Arberia (Arbëria) neighborhood in Priština, but the local security stated that there was no staff inside and that there had been "no one there for about ten days."
On the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora of Kosovo, where embassies and foreign missions in Kosovo are listed, the Office of the Chinese Liaison appears. There are some public contacts, but the office's website, where one could inquire about its activities, is not functioning.
In response to RFE's inquiry about whether the Kosovo government monitors the work of the Chinese office in Kosovo, if there is any contact with it, and if they receive reports from it, the Kosovo government, in a joint response with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, did not provide many details.
"Of course, we are aware of the presence of all missions operating in Kosovo and their activities in the country. Regarding the Office of China in Kosovo, as a government, we have no communication with it due to the relationship between the two countries," the response stated.
RFE also inquired with the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, UNMIK, about the contacts it has with the Chinese Liaison Office in Kosovo and whether it assists in communication between it and Kosovar institutions, but did not receive a response.
On the UNMIK website, it is stated that on February 16th of this year, the head of this mission, Caroline Ziadeh, received the head of the Office of the People's Republic of China in Priština, Cheng Lei. Among other things, it is mentioned that Ziadeh emphasized "UNMIK's initiatives to build trust," but further details are not specified.
RFE's online research indicates that last month, Cheng also met with the Mayor of the Municipality of Priština, Përparim Rama. Rama wrote on his LinkedIn platform that he and Cheng discussed "numerous collaboration opportunities" in the fields of economy, arts, and culture.
"I am informed that the Government of China has so far issued visas for more than 1,000 business representatives from Kosovo," Rama said among other things.
In April, Cheng also met with the Mayor of Uroševac, Agim Aliu, who, in a Facebook post, wrote that the meeting discussed, among other things, the possibilities of collaboration in various fields, particularly in facilitating business operations.
Outside of politics, Cheng also received the President of the Olympic Committee of Kosovo, Ismet Krasniqi, who stated that Cheng had been asked through the Office of China to establish cooperation between the Olympic committees of the two countries in the field of sports - to which the Chinese diplomat agreed.
Mimoza Ahmetaj, who served as Kosovo's ambassador to several countries, told Radio Free Europe's Expose program that Kosovo should benefit from the presence of every foreign diplomatic mission in the country, including the Chinese. According to her, partnerships established with them would serve in achieving Kosovo's own goals.
"The cooperation between states encompasses multiple dimensions - political, diplomatic, security, cultural, trade, economic... So, it's a wide spectrum of cooperation. We are interested in Kosovo's integration, and a form must be found... I wouldn't like Kosovo to build walls among states, but on the contrary, bridges of cooperation," Ahmetaj said.
A survey conducted last month by the International Republican Institute based in the United States revealed that 69 percent of Kosovo's citizens do not believe that their country's interests are being advanced by maintaining strong relations with China.
Ramdan Iljazi from the Kosovo Center for Security Studies told Expose that such perception is created due to the lack of formal political relations between the two countries. He says that Kosovar institutions should be very cautious about the role the Chinese Liaison Office may play.
"In the absence of meaningful contacts with the central government, China is trying to enter other levels of government. This is potentially concerning, and Kosovar institutions should provide better guidance on how to deal with the Chinese government's requests for meetings," Iljazi said.
Iljazi also adds that China's strong support for Serbia also harms Kosovo.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Belgrade last week on an official visit, where he reiterated that Beijing supports Serbia's stance on Kosovo. Xi also stated that Serbia is China's main partner in Central and Eastern Europe.
According to Iljazi, strengthening this alliance poses a significant obstacle to Kosovo's full international recognition, as China is a permanent member with veto power in the United Nations Security Council - an organization Kosovo seeks to join.
Iljazi argues that Kosovo should be "potentially open to a diplomatic level of relations with China," but that "this should be done in full coordination with the United States."
Former diplomat Ahmetaj also advocates for a more open policy.
"It is of particular importance to build relationships with these missions. We must find a way to collaborate with each of them and how to benefit from their presence. At no time should we perceive them as unwanted. Kosovo is in the process of state-building, in the process of state consolidation, and their presence should serve Kosovo in that spirit," she says.
To visit Kosovo, Chinese citizens need a visa, except those who hold diplomatic passports. Visas can be obtained at the Embassy of Kosovo in Albania or Turkey.
Additionally, citizens of Kosovo must obtain visas to travel to China - they submit their documents to the Liaison Office in Priština, which are then processed at the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade.
Kosovo and China do not have a formal cooperation agreement. There are no media outlets in Kosovo owned by Chinese entities or with pro-Chinese content. Kosovo also does not have loans from Chinese banks.
What is evident, however, are trade exchanges. According to data from the Kosovo Customs for RFE, Kosovo imported goods from China worth 650 million euros in 2023. This figure nearly doubled compared to 2019 when the value was 340 million euros. On the other hand, the value of Kosovo's exports to China last year amounted to 442,000 euros.
The Kosovo Customs also confirmed that among last year's imports from China were 57,444 recording devices. RFE discovered that many of these cameras from China, companies Dahua and

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Hikvision, were installed in squares in Priština, as well as in buildings of state institutions, including the State Prosecutor's Office, the Ministry of Trade, and the Ministry of Health.
The problem is concerning, especially considering that companies Dahua and Hikvision, partially owned by the Chinese state, are on the blacklist of the US, UK, and Australia.
Some Western countries, like these, perceive China as a malicious actor, which has, in some cases, engaged in disinformation campaigns portraying the Western community as misguided and ineffective.
Even Kosovo's Prime Minister, Albin Kurti, has described China as an "adversary" on several occasions.
The attempt by journalists to obtain accurate information about the scope of the work of the Chinese Liaison Office in Pristina (Kosovo) did not provide a precise answer regarding the Office's activities in Kosovo. The fact is that China does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state, but it is attempting to exert influence in this part of the Western Balkans. Kosovar authorities have not taken loans from Chinese investors for infrastructure and other projects, but economic cooperation is being realized through the import of various goods from China to Kosovo. Among these goods are cameras from Chinese manufacturers, which are on the blacklist of the United States and the United Kingdom due to potential security abuses.
Additionally, following the established practice it has in other countries in the Western Balkans, China seeks to develop relations in other areas and thereby exert its influence. Although Kosovar officials have labeled China as an "enemy" on several occasions due to its non-recognition of Kosovo's independence and support for Serbia's sovereignty and territorial integrity (essentially implying that Kosovo is considered part of Serbia), in economics and other areas, it is evident that cooperation exists.
As there are no formal relations with Kosovar authorities, China seeks to establish some forms of cooperation with lower levels of government (municipalities), bypassing official government institutions. This only speaks to the fact that China carefully plans its geostrategic positioning in the Western Balkans region, not leaving any part of it to chance. For Kosovar authorities, it could be said that they are aware of China's position, but it is also an alarm to the international community to strengthen its presence in Kosovo and prevent the negative consequences of Chinese influence.