Rare earth elements (REEs) are a collection of 17 elements composed of cerium, dysprosium, erbium, europium, gadolinium, holmium, lanthanum, lutetium, neodymium, praseodymium, promethium, samarium, scandium, terbium, thulium, ytterbium, and yttrium. These elements are highly valued for their “conductive and magnetic properties” (Chang 2022). REEs are of vital importance to high-tech devices and their ability to function, including computer hard drives, telephones, televisions, and hybrid or electronic vehicles. Furthermore, rare earth metals (REM) are heavily used in the defence industry to integrate electronic displays, sonar, laser, and guiding systems into modern weaponry. Therefore, REM quickly became a strategic component for the defence industry’s supply chains, and, at the same time, embodied a geopolitical challenge to secure countries’ strategic autonomy regarding these precious materials. When looking at the main global suppliers of REEs, China finds itself in the first position, controlling around 80% of REE production (Kelemen & Stonor 2022). The recent tensions in the Taiwan Strait re-introduced the reality of Western REE dependency on China to the agenda. Washington finds itself in a difficult position regarding its industry’s reliance on China’s REEs. Therefore, Beijing’s dominance over such a strategic resource seriously undermines the West’s ability to impose economic sanctions on China. In the scenario of a confrontation between Washington and Beijing, China could decide to cut its REE supply to the US, which as a consequence could exhaust its stocks in “less than 90 days” (Kelemen & Stonor 2022).
Western Balkans is a term that refers to eight countries in the Southern and Eastern Europe: Republic of Albania, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, the Republic of Kosovo, the Republic of North Macedonia, Croatia, and Republic of Serbia (Bugajski, 2019). This report aims to analyse Russian and EU influence on Western European countries, also taking into account China's growing engagement in the region and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Lastly, in light of these considerations, the paper provides some insights into the strategy the EU adopts in the Western Balkans.
Relations between the United States and China have been strained for a few years now, but tensions have increased in recent months due to several geopolitical events. One of them was the visit to Taipei by Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi last July, underpinning the United States’ support for Taiwan’s status. The current US Administration continues to adhere to the one China policy, as most other countries in the world do. In response, over the summer, Beijing increased the number of aggressive military exercises around the islands of the South China Sea, although China’s expert Dean Cheng of Heritage Foundation argued they were “likely pre-planned for months” (Cheng, 2022). Lately, Beijing appears to have at least partially aligned with Western thinking by calling on Russia to end the war in Ukraine as soon as possible, yet friction with Washington has been enhanced by Biden's latest statement regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty. In fact, China was strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed to Biden’s comment (Reuters, 2022), when the President of the US declared that US forces would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion.
In the past decades, China has profoundly invested in the modernization of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) moving China to the first position as the world’s largest maritime force with its size expected to grow in the future (U.S. Department of Defense 2021). Whereas China’s initial goal is to strengthen its Navy to match or surpass the United States global influence or power in the Indo-Pacific region, it is also to project its forces to protect China’s national interests abroad and gain a more important place in the international system. In doing so, China is using a combination of economic, political, and military tools, under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to evade the United States’ containment strategy and secure its strategic position.
On 30 April 2022 was held the “Shield 2022” demonstration of the Serbian Army’s capabilities, where their new military acquisition, the FK-3 anti-aircraft missile system from China, was presented. This FK-3 surface to air missile system is the export version of the HQ-22 surface to air missile system developed by Jiangnan Space Industry of China. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said that this equipment would modernise their military capacity and represents a powerful deterrent against potential threats.