INTERNATIONAL TOURISM AS A NEOLIBERAL PRACTICE OF CHINESE INFLUENCE IN THE WESTERN BALKANS
Abstract. The article reveals China's geostrategic interests in the Western Balkans. The paper highlights the main directions of Beijing's political and economic cooperation with the countries of the region, the impact of these processes on the foreign policy orientations of the Balkan countries. The focus is on assessing the international political potential of Chinese outbound tourism as a tool for neoliberal influence on the host destinations of the Western Balkans. The work consists of three interrelated parts. The first part, within the neoliberal paradigm, reveals the understanding of tourism as a factor of international political interaction and the establishment of "complex interdependence". For China, which generates the largest outbound tourist flow, these human communications provide the possibility of indirect influence on host destinations through the created economic dependence and the approval of "official tourist destinations."
The second part of the study highlights the Chinese approach to the Western Balkans. It is motivated by the implementation of a large-scale project of the New Silk Road "Belt and Road Initiative", designed to create a cross-border transport and logistics network to accelerate the delivery of Chinese goods to European markets. In the context of this project, the countries of the Western Balkans have become a geographical "entry point" for both land and sea corridors of the new Silk Road, which connect the markets of Europe and Asia.
The third part of the publication shows that China's international political and investment activity in the Western Balkans is based on a network of transnational social ties created under the auspices of the state. An appropriate place among them is given to tourist flows from China, whose communication strategies influence emotional and commercial involvement, as well as a positive perception of China in the region. It has been concluded that the intensification of tourist contacts and the related liberalization of mobility regimes serve as an important factor in strengthening the complex asymmetric interdependence of the Balkans with China. In the long term, this will strengthen Beijing's position in Europe, especially in the context of global competition with the United States.
Key words: Western Balkans. China. Foreign policy. Belt and Road Initiative. International tourism. Tourist flows.