15th November 2017.
Slovak policy towards China in the age of
Belt and Road Initiative and 16+1 Format
Kristína Kironská and Richard Q. Turcsányi
Although Slovakia was among the first countries to sign the memorandum with China on
Belt and Road (BRI) initiative in 2015, the involvement of Slovakia in the initiative has been
minimal until now. Slovakia is also located outside the six main economic corridors planned
by the Chinese side as the backbone of BRI. However, some Slovak experts and officials see
a potential that a new transport corridor from China via Russia, Ukraine and entering Eastern
Slovakia could be opened and serve as an alternative option to the Northern route going via
Poland. The Slovak government started to pay more attention to China in 2017, and it remains
to be seen whether its newly drafted strategy may bring some fruits with regards to these
plans. As for the Slovak media, however, the BRI is not much known, and there is relatively
little coverage of the initiative.
The presented paper aims at answering the question of how Slovakia has approached
China in the recent years, particularly in the contexts of the Belt and Road Initiative and the
16+1 format. This paper addresses the perception of BRI at the official and media levels in
Slovakia and sheds light on projects that Slovakia wishes to see come to light.
The structure of the paper will begin, firstly, with the context in which the current
Slovak-China relations are taking place. For that reason, the trade and investment statistics
will be briefly presented, together with the relevant media information and the information
received from the interviews regarding the most recent development. Secondly, the analysis
of the two crucial strategic documents of the Slovak government vis-à-vis China will be
offered, to understand what is the official position towards China. Following that, thirdly, we
will look at the media image of China, notably how the Slovak media reported about the BRI
and 16+1 format. In conclusion, a discussion about the potential development of Slovak-
China relations will be offered.
Until recently, Slovakia counted as the nation with the least interest in China in Central
Europe. As a comparison, its three partners in the so-called Visegrad Group (V4) have been
much further in developing relations with China. Poland established the strategic partnership
with China in 2011 and is often regarded as the leader of the 16 Central and Eastern European
(CEE) countries in their relations with China in the so-called 16+1 format.1Hungary
competes for the title and argues that it started its ‘Eastern opening’ much earlier, already in
the early 2000s. Hungary is also the host of the largest amount of Chinese FDI and also
Chinese diaspora in the region. The Czech Republic, for its part, has much more turbulent
history when it comes to its approach to China.2Before 2012, the country was regarded as
perhaps the strongest critique of China in Europe. Yet, since then a political reshuffling
produced an almost perfect U-turn in its diplomatic relations with China and some Czech
leaders now try to steal for themselves the position of being the Chinese bridge/gateway to
While the three V4 neighbors of Slovakia have established strategic partnerships with
China in the recent years (in the case of Poland and Hungary even comprehensive strategic
partnerships), Slovakia attracted international attention just recently when its president met
with the Dalai Lama, obviously leading to criticism from China. The country's Prime Minister
Robert Fico (who, unlike the president, is the head of the government in the Slovak political
system) was one of the very few ones missing at the 16+1 summit in Suzhou in 2016.
Slovakia also did not send any high-level delegation to the Belt and Road summit in Beijing
in 2017. Even the post of the Slovak Ambassador in Beijing was vacant for about a year in
2016. All in all, even though Premier Fico and other Slovak diplomats rhetorically confirmed
that they see China as an important partner, there has been relatively little activity from the
Slovak side to prove that.4
However, there seem to be changes taking place in 2017 in Slovakia when it comes to its
relations with China. In April, the country’s government approved a 37-page long ‘Strategy of
Development Economic Relations with China for 2017-2010’ and at the moment an even
longer ‘Action plan’ of this strategy is under negotiation and soon to be approved. At the
same time, Slovakia might soon receive some significant Chinese investments.5
1Szcsudlik-Tatar, J., 2014. Poland and China: a Strategic Partnership in Making? In: Furst, R., Tesar, F. (Eds.),
China’s Comeback in Former Eastern Europe: No Longer Comrades, Not Yet Strategic Partners. Institute of
International Relations, Prague, 25-44.
2Turcsányi, R.Q., Matura, T., Furst, R., 2014. The Visegrad countries' political relations with China. Goals,
results and prospects. In: Szunomar, A. (Eds.), Chinese investments and financial engagements in Central
Europe. Myth or Reality? Institute of World Economics HAS, Budapest, 127-141. For more insights into Czech
approach towards China, see for instance Furst, R., 2014, The Czech Experience with Relations with China:
Nothing to Win, Nothing to Lose. In: Furst, R. and Tesar, F. (Eds.), China’s Comeback in Former Eastern
Europe: No Longer Comrades, Not Yet Strategic Partners. Institute of International Relations, Prague, 60-68;
Furst, R., 2011. Co počít s negativní českou konstrukcí zlé Číny?. In: Stritecky et al. Mezi politickým (ne)zájmem
a byrokratickou efektivitou. Institute of International Relations, Prague, 2011, 115-125.
3Turcsányi, R. Q., and Andrea Bajerova, 2016, Defender of Values to Faithful Ally’: The Czech Republic’s
Foreign Policy Approach towards China, In: The Strategic Partnership Between China and Czech Republic:
Status Quo, Problems and Policy Suggestions, Beijing: CASS; Turcsányi, R. Q., "Is the Czech Republic China's
New ‘Bridge to Europe’?," The Diplomat, 12 September 2015, <http://thediplomat.com/2015/09/is-the-
4Turcsányi, R. Q., "Fico pre rozvoj vzťahov s Čínou neurobil prakticky nič," Denník N, 7 November 2016,
5The Government of the Slovak Republic, Concept of Development of Economic Relations between the Slovak
Republic and the People's Republic of China for the Years 2017-2020, April 2017; The Government of the
Slovak Republic, Action Plan to the Concept of Development of Economic Relations between the Slovak
Republic and the People's Republic of China for the Years 2017-2020, September 2017.
The presented paper aims to answer the question of how Slovakia has approached China
in the recent years, particularly in the contexts of the Belt and Road Initiative and the 16+1
format. The character of the research goal substantiates the use of both quantitative and
qualitative approaches. The specific methodological tools employed include document
analysis, media analysis, individual in-depth interviews, and observations; which are in
accordance with Robert K. Yin's sources of evidence for case studies.6
Relevant data were collected through the study of primary (government documents,
interviews) and secondary sources (academic and media articles, studies, reports). Between
August and October 2017 we have conducted ten in-depth interviews with Slovak government
officials to acquire detailed information about the undergoing Slovak initiatives regarding the
BRI. Informants were handpicked on the assumption that they represent compelling cases for
the study (purposive non-probability sampling). We relied on our personal connections to
establish initial contact and then used the snowball method to recruit more respondents.
The interviews were all conducted in the Slovak language as one-to-one discussions in a
semi-structured way with open-ended questions. One session typically took between one and
two hours. For the respondent not to be severely inhibited by the presence of the recorder, we
have opted against recording. Some critical information obtained during the interviews was
verified by triangulation, a method using multiple perspectives to interpret a single set of data.
As requested, the interviewees would not be named throughout the text.
Moreover, a media content analysis of over 2600 articles dealing with Chinese politics
and/or economy published in the period between January 2010 and June 2017 in Slovakia was
conducted as part of another research project of the authors.7Data were collected according to
the key questions and coded neutral, positive, or negative. Keywords and themes added to the
coding provide an instrument for “measuring” the depth of the discourse. Another data set,
January 2017 - October 2017, analyses solely BRI media coverage concerning titles and
mentions, and compares it to the previous years.
Based on the research goals and the designed methodology, the structure of the paper
will be as follows. Firstly, to present the context in which the current Slovak-China relations
are taking place, the trade and investment statistics will be briefly presented, together with the
relevant media information and the information received from the interviews regarding the
most recent development. Secondly, the analysis of the two crucial strategic documents of the
Slovak government vis-à-vis China will be offered, to understand what is the official position
towards China. Following that, thirdly, we will look at the media image of China and
particularly how the Slovak media reported about the BRI and the 16+1 format. In conclusion,
a discussion about the potential development of Slovak-China relations will be offered.
Building the context: Slovak trade and investment relations with China
From the Slovak perspective, similar to other V4 and CEE countries, China is above all a
promising alternative economic partner – primarily serving as a source of exports and source
6Yin, Robert K., 1989. Case Study Research: Design and Methods. SAGE Publications.
of investments. Hence, to understand the experience of Slovakia in this regard, it makes sense
to look at how Slovak-Chinese trade relations have been going. From the trade perspective,
we see that Slovakia experiences a trade deficit with China – Slovakia imports from China
currently more than four times as much as it exports to China. As the Figure 1 (see below)
shows, Slovakia's trade position vis-à-vis China changed considerably – in 2016 Slovakia
exported to China less than in 2010. We can see that Slovak exports to China grew since
about 2005 and in the aftermath of the 2008 crisis they increased rapidly, narrowing the gap
between exports and imports. Yet, since 2011, Slovak exports to China have been decreasing.
Figure 1: Slovak-China trade relations
The Figure 2 (see below) compares Slovak exports to China with those of all CEE16.
Slovakia, together with its V4 neighbors, is from among the CEE16 the leading exporter to
China. Yet, in the previous years, Slovakia's decrease in exports was from among the V4 the
fastest, meaning that while in 2011 Slovakia was the most prominent exporter to China from
among the CEE16, it lost its position in the subsequent years. Still, Slovakia has one of the
smallest trade deficits with China from among the CEE16 countries.
Figure 2: CEE16 exports to China
China is a major import partner for Slovakia – more than 8 % of Slovak imports come
from China, only surpassed by the Czech Republic (more than 10 %) and Germany (almost 17
%).8As for the exports, China takes the 14th position with roughly 1.6 % of Slovak exports,
with main export partners of Slovakia being the EU countries such as Germany, the Czech
Republic, Austria, Poland, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, but also the USA and Russia
scoring above China.9On the other hand, China is still by far the most dominant export
destination for Slovakia in Asia. As for the composition of the Slovak export to China, it is
dominated by the products of automotive industries – products of the Slovak medium and
small enterprises take marginal share in the overall export from Slovakia to China.
Moving on to the investment relations, so far, the country has not attracted any
considerable deal and it ranks much below its neighbors when it comes to the overall amount
of Chinese FDI.10 Yet, a few projects under negotiation may change the regional picture
entirely. The Chinese HeSteel Group – the world's second-largest steel producer – is allegedly
near acquiring one of the major companies in Slovakia – the U.S. Steel-owned factory in
Košice, Eastern Slovakia. The deal is expected to materialize in April 2018, when the
agreement between the Slovak government and the U.S. Steel expires and the American
company will be free to sell its assets without a threat of a financial fee.
8World Bank Group, World Integrated Trade Solutions, 2017,
10 MERICS and Rhodium Group, Chinese investment in Europe: record flows and growing imbalances, 2017,
<https://www.merics.org/en/merics-analysis/papers-on-china/cofdi/cofdi2017/>; Ministry of Commerce of the
PRC, 2015 Statistical Bulletin of China’s Outward Foreign Direct Investment (Beijing, 2016). American
Enterprise Institute, China Global Investment Tracker, 2017, <http://www.aei.org/china-global-investment-
The U.S. Steel’s acquisition would amount according to media information to 1.4 billion
EUR. Moreover, the factory would require 1-2 billion of additional capital investments in the
years to come to retain its good production standing. If the deal really happens as described, it
would be the biggest one in all of the CEE since Wanhua’s acquisition of BorsodChem in
Hungary in 2011. It would also instantly make Slovakia one of the CEE countries with the
most Chinese FDI. Other Chinese deals are under consideration, although they are farther
from concluding. They include a strategic 30 years rent of the airport in the capital city
(Bratislava), investments in the spa tourism, or water energy.
Even more importantly, some in Slovakia hope that the country can become another
terminal point for the railways connecting China with Europe. Today almost all the trains
from China to Europe go via Russia, Belarus and then to Poland. Thanks to its position and
already existing infrastructure, Slovakia might offer a new railway connection via Russia,
Ukraine and reaching Eastern Slovakia, from where it could continue further West, South or
North in the EU (see Image 1).
The advantages of this new line are a few-fold. The wide-gauge railway from Russia and
Ukraine terminates in Eastern Slovakia, where existing intermodal terminals can transfer
goods to European-gauge tracks. Moreover, the second largest city of Košice (also the
location of the U.S. Steel) would play the role here as it is a hub for highways and also hosts
an international airport. There are also plans for the construction of a new innovation and
industrial park here, next to the new intermodal terminal, which could grow here as well.
Image 1: Three possible routes from China to Slovakia
Source: Slovak Ministry of Transport and Construction, 2017.
These transport plans would probably require some additional upgrading were the
transport line become used in higher volumes, but otherwise, the corridor is ready to operate.
In fact, there have been already first trains utilizing this path on their way to Hungary, and
there is the first one explicitly destined for Slovakia to arrive in November.11 Overall, the
primary challenge here is not so much a missing infrastructure, but the geopolitical tensions
between Russia and Ukraine, which make it difficult for the trains to pass their borders
The official Slovak approach towards the Belt and Road Initiative
Since Chinese President Xi Jinping's first mention of the BRI in Kazakhstan in 2013, the
initiative has gained a lot of momentum and attention worldwide. Slovakia has had a positive
although not very proactive stance to this cooperation framework until recently, although this
started to change.
Slovakia was one of the first countries to sign the Memorandum of Understanding on the
BRI with China back in 2015.12 According to Slovak officials, immediately after the
announcement of the BRI, the country offered various projects that could fall within the scope
of the initiative. However, the feeling on the Slovak side was that China did not react actively
or that the Chinese offer was not applicable.13 This applies, for instance, to the water power
plant on the river Ipeľ, which was discussed during the initial years of the 16+1 format, yet
without any progress.
Officers of the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they were open to the initiative,
and their ministry supported it, however, they all emphasized they treated it is an economic
and trade-oriented initiative, and did not consider political or other aspects.14 The Slovak
Ministry of Finance has named a Plenipotentiary of the Government for the Negotiation of the
BRI, Dana Meager.15 Together with her advisor, Štefan Adamec, they attend negotiations
with the Chinese side. The Slovak Ministry of Transport and Construction has been
promoting Slovakia as the transit zone at the east-west and north-south crossroad in several
seminars and expos in China. One of such events, the Intermodal China 2017, was attended
by 16 state-owned and private transport and logistics companies (ŽSR, ZSSK Cargo,
Slovenská Pošta, Verejné prístavy, etc.) approached and invited by the Working Group for the
Implementation of the MoU between Slovakia and China for the Support of BRI, under the
leadership of Peter Hrapko from the Ministry of Transport and Construction, in cooperation
with the Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO).16
Slovakia is clearly interested in deepening the partnership with China and has offered
collaboration on a number of projects in tourism, energetics, tourism and research and
development that fall under the scope of BRI. The most vividly discussed plan, however, is
11 TASR, "Do Bratislavy smeruje nákladný vlak z Číny, očakávaný príchod je o 2 týždne," SME, 27 October
12 ---, "CEE countries sign memo to promote Belt and Road Initiative," Xinhua, 27 November 2015,
13 Personal interviews, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
14 Personal interviews, Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
15 The government of the Slovak Republic, Resolution of the Government of the Slovak Republic no. 308 on the
Nomination of the Plenipotentiary of the Government of the Slovak Republic for the Negotiation of the
Economic Belt of the Silk Road and the Maritime Way of the 21st Century, 21 June 2017.
16 Generálny konzulát SR v Šanghaji, "Pracovná návšteva štátnej tajimníčkyMF SR Dany Meager v Šanghaji",
30 March 2017, <https://goo.gl/UWTFQ6>.
the construction of a wide-gauge railway from the East to the West of the country and
building of an intermodal transportation terminal. Transportation is one of the most viable
BRI aspects in Slovakia. Transport and infrastructure are both services to trade and vice versa.
The key to success of the project is an optimal customs information exchange between
Slovakia and China based on the Memorandum of Understanding between customs
authorities of both countries, signed by Meager in November 2016 in Riga. Based on this
agreement, the result of a two-year effort, rail transport will speed up and computerize. It is,
however, crucial that transit countries on this route, such as Russia, Kazakhstan and Ukraine,
join this initiative.
At the summit in Suzhou in 2015, the Slovak Minister of Transport and Construction
expressed interest in cooperation with China. In May 2015, as part of the 16+1 Initiative, a
Chinese delegation interested in organizing railway transportation from China to Europe
visited Slovakia. In 2016, the same delegation visited again, this time to discuss cooperation
between Slovakia and China. They expressed the need for promoting Slovakia, as one of the
possible transit routes to Europe in China.
In January 2016, the EU and Ukraine have mutually opened their markets for goods and
services (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement), and thus enabled an easier
passing of freight trains between Slovakia and Ukraine. Until then, transit and Chinese import
to Slovakia were limited–there was the China-Europe International, one regular freight train
(11,000 km in 15 days) that ran once a week between August 2015 and the beginning of 2016
between the port of Yingkou in China and the terminal Dobrá in Slovakia (now it passes
through Belarus and Poland).17 After consultations with Ukraine, in which Kiev declared
transport safety and interest in the project, and a series of events in China promoting Slovakia
as one of the alternative routes to Europe (organized by the Slovak Ministry of Transport and
Construction), a new regular 44-container freight train started running in June 2017 once a
week from Changsha (Hunan province) to Budapest through Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine and
Slovakia. The whole journey takes about 16 days (as opposed to one up to two months by ship)
and is overseen by the Hunan Intermodal Railway Company. In Dobrá (Slovakia) the freight
is transferred from wide-gauge to European-gauge rails and transported by the Slovak railway
company Cargo Slovakia to Budapest.
The ministry is facilitating the preparation of another regular train service from the port
of Dalian (China) via Russia to Bratislava (Slovakia), which started on 27 October 2017. Part
of the freight will continue to Poland and Hungary, but most of it will end in Slovakia. The
third train to Slovakia, still in the preparation phase, will run from Chengdu (China) through
The question is not only sending goods from China to Europe but also vice-versa. For
now, just 45 % of the containers are filled with products, which makes this program much
more expensive.18 Slovakia has, however, a huge advantage – it produces the most cars per
capita in the world. Although China is speeding up its car industry, world’s most luxury cars
17 Intermodálne promočné centrum, "Hodvábna cesta otvorená," <http://www.intermodal.sk/hodvabna-cesta-
18 Personal interviews, Ministry of Transport and Construction.
are manufactured in Slovakia. Last year, only Volkswagen alone exported to China 42
thousand vehicles.19 For now, most cars are shipped by sea, and those few that are shipped by
train pass from Bratislava to Duisburg (Germany) and from there to Chongqing (China)
through Poland, not yet using the direct route between Slovakia and China.
In 2017, the Slovak government put forward two documents related to the China strategy.
Firstly, in April, the government approved the Concept of Development of Economic
Relations between the Slovak Republic and the People's Republic of China for the Years
2017-2020.20 Currently, it has been extended to the Action plan, which is now under
negotiation.21 The two documents suggest that Slovakia enjoys good political relations with
China, but it has not managed to use them for enhancing the economic relations – primarily
regarding exports, investments, but also tourism. The central chapters of these documents deal
with various issues, such as strengthening the political dialogue between the two countries,
planning investment strategies, supporting Slovak exports (particularly those of small and
medium-sized companies), planning transport cooperation, supporting tourism, and
collaborating in the innovation sectors.
Some concrete measures of how to achieve these goals, are the opening of Slovak houses
in various parts of China to promote Slovakia as an investment, tourism, and economic
destination; strengthening the Slovak diplomatic presence in China; active promotion at
multiple fairs in China; or attempts to create an appropriate context of how Slovakia could use
Chinese investment funds. The documents also mention the possibility of emitting
government bonds on the Chinese financial market. When it comes to the trade promotion, the
materials emphasize the need to increase exports of Slovak medium and small size companies.
A special mention is to agriculture products, where the documents assert that Slovakia has
met all the required regulations from the Chinese side, and therefore it should be allowed to
enter the Chinese market in these sectors.22
Ministries involved in the elaboration of the 2017 Action Plan to the Concept of
Development of Economic Relations between the Slovak Republic and the People's Republic
of China for the Years 2017-2020 (Part VIII of the Action Plan is related exclusively to the
implementation of BRI) include the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Transport and Construction.
The Action Plan, which demands adjustments to the state budget, has been submitted to
the Slovak government and is waiting for the approval of the Ministry of Finance. Its
objective is to strengthen the political dialogue as a prerequisite for the development of
political and economic relations with China. It addresses investment, business and trade
development, as well as the sectors of transport, tourism, research and innovation. In regard of
BRI, it focuses on infrastructure building and customs.
20 The Government of the Slovak Republic, Concept of Development of Economic Relations between the Slovak
Republic and the People's Republic of China for the Years 2017-2020, April 2017.
21 The Government of the Slovak Republic, Action Plan to the Concept of Development of Economic Relations
between the Slovak Republic and the People's Republic of China for the Years 2017-2020, September 2017.
As part of this plan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs intends to actively develop not only
bilateral high level, ministerial and regional political dialogue between Slovakia and China;
but also to contribute to strengthening the EU's political dialogue with the China (in line with
the EU-China Strategic Partnership Agenda from 2013 and the EU Strategy towards China
adopted in 2016; and to intensify the use of regional formats, such as V4+China or 16+1, for
political dialogue. The Slovak Investment and Trade Development Agency (SARIO) and the
Slovak-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SČOK) are to organize bilateral and multilateral
events in both Slovakia and China with an emphasis on BRI.23 Another objective is to
increase the number of Chinese top politicians' visits to Slovakia, with the help of the Slovak
Embassy in Beijing, together with SČOK and the China Innovation Forum.
The Ministry of Economy and Ministry of Finance, in cooperation with SARIO, are to
explore and design a strategy for increasing direct investment flows from and to China. In
2014, Chinese FDI to Slovakia reached 31.3 million €, and in 2015, it was only 11.2 million €,
which is not even 1% of the total FDI (40.2 billion €) to Slovakia.24 Although Chinese
companies are generally interested in energy and infrastructural projects, in Slovakia, public
infrastructure has not yet been financed from Chinese sources, as Chinese entities are
reluctant to enter public procurement competitions. Moreover, Slovakia's BRI projects aimed
at modernization and building of new infrastructure in order to enhance the transport capacity,
are to be linked with EIB's European Fund for Strategic Investments.
Since the share of small and medium enterprises in Slovak exports is marginal, the
Slovak Ministry of Economy is directly engaging with the Chinese Ministry of Trade in order
to improve the situation. To support business activities of Slovak companies, which are based
in China's provinces, the cooperation of the Slovak Embassy in Beijing is required. To
support the Slovak export, Slovakia has to continue working with its Chinese partners in the
financial and banking sector and actively participate in promoting cooperation in this area
within the 16+1 format. The aim for this year is the establishment of the Bank Union between
China and 16 Central and East European countries. Also, Slovakia's Eximbanka needs to raise
awareness of its existing products and their potential use for the Chinese market.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to negotiate and facilitate the signing a Memorandum
of Understanding between SARIO and its Chinese counterpart, China Investment Promotion
Agency (CIPA), as well as relevant organizations in Hong Kong and Macao, to streamline the
inflows of FDI and intensify trade. Moreover, SARIO is to set up a branch in China.
According to the Action Plan, the Ministry of Transport and Construction is to work on
the removal of the rail transport bottleneck–Slovakia's geographical advantages need to be
supported by an appropriate infrastructure support system. For the purpose of constructing
multimodal terminals, it is necessary to determine the way of financing their construction and
operation, while respecting decisions of the EC and Beijing on BRI. The Ministry of
Transport and Construction is in charge of designing ways to promote cargo ship transport,
including the complex reconstruction of the Bratislava port. It is also in charge of developing
an action plan for the construction and financing of transport and logistics projects related to
In the tourism sector, to strengthen tourism promotion, representative offices will be set
up in Shanghai and Beijing and staffed with Slovak delegates, as well as the local labor force.
The objectives for developing cooperation in the sectors of information and
communication technology, research and innovation, including supporting the establishment
of a Technology Transfer Centre, as part of the 16+1 format, and establish its secretariat in
Bratislava. Moreover, priorities in Slovakia's Strategy of Intelligent Specialization need to be
identified and narrowed down (automotive, mechanical engineering, ICT, metallurgy and
steel, biotechnology, agriculture, food and forestry).
As for BRI infrastructure projects, financing models using a combination of public and
private sources are to be designed and the modernization of several tracks and terminals
overseen, namely the 88 km long wide-gauge track Maťovce - Košice Haniska, the intermodal
terminal Dobrá, the intermodal terminal Košice; the intermodal terminal Leopoldov, and the
trimodal terminal Bratislava. Moreover, the Ministry of Transport and Construction will put
into operation the Intermodal terminal Žilina and negotiate with the local government of
Košice one of the most important of the Slovak initiatives in BRI, the construction of a
transport hub called the Global Logistics and Industrial Park Košice (GLIP).25 Košice is a
railway (both wide-gage and European-gauge) and highway intersection (nicknamed the
double-cross) that could connect the East with the West and the North with the South (also
called the Amber Road).
Coverage of Belt and Road Initiative in Slovak Media26
Since the introduction of the BRI framework by Xi Jinping, there has been a steady
increase in the number of mentions of BRI in the Slovak media (see Table 1). Only this year
(beginning of January until the end of October), the topic of BRI was mentioned in the Slovak
media (TV, radio, print, online) 704 times, out of which, in 106 cases the title explicitly
named the initiative. Eleven TV shows (TV JOJ, TA3, TV Markíza, STV1) and two radio
shows (Rádio Regina) were dedicated to this topic. Twelve articles appeared in the print
media (Život, Pravda, Hospodárske noviny, SME, Plus jeden deň) with BRI in the title of the
article. The initiative got the most attention from online media with 81 titles dedicated to the
initiative, mostly on sme.sk, 24hod.sk, teraz.sk, and hlavnespravy.sk.
Table 1: Number of BRI titles and mentions in the Slovak media 2013-2017
Number of BRI titles in the media
Number of BRI mentions in the media
26 The data presented in this section comes from the research by the authors, as part of the ChinfluenCE project
The overall picture of China, as presented in Slovak media, is not a positive one. The
share of negative articles on China was almost 4.5 times higher than the percentage of
positive articles. At the same time, the majority of the items examined were evaluated as
creating a neutral image of China.
However, the media coverage of BRI in Slovakia deviates from the general trend.
Opposite to the general direction, the share of articles, which mention BRI and create a
positive image of China, is higher than the percentage of items holding a negative view of
China and BRI. The share of positive articles is about 1.5 times higher than the share of
negative articles. In other words, materials dealing with BRI tend to be more positive than the
remaining items dealing with China (see Figure 3).
Figure 3: Share of articles in Slovak media based on sentiment (2010-2017)
When it comes to the individual media – two of them stand out with regard to their
highly positive coverage of BRI. The left-leaning Pravda, and economically oriented
Hospodárske noviny, both had more than 50 % of articles showing positive sentiment towards
China in their reports on BRI. In Pravda, 57 % articles were positive, while in Hospodárske
noviny this share was as high as 71 %. Two media also stand out in their profoundly negative
view of BRI - Denník N and Týždeň. Both of these media had a 100 % share of negative
articles in the sample of examined articles. This is however not surprising since in the overall
sample of articles discussing China both of them had a significant share of negative articles
than the percentage of neutral items.
To gain a deeper understanding of how the discourse on BRI is developing in Slovakia,
we can look at which themes BRI is being mentioned with. Most often, BRI is linked with the
broader topic of Chinese investments, as well as the economic growth of China (including its
slowdown), and Chinese power and influence in the world. These are the top three issues BRI
was linked with, each appearing in more than 30 % articles dealing with BRI. In the list of top
ten themes BRI was linked to, only one strictly political topic appeared–the issue of human
rights in China was raised in 16% of articles on BRI. The remaining nine were either purely
economical, such as Chinese exports, or mixed economic-political themes, like bilateral
relations with Slovakia (see Table 2).
Table 2: Issue linkage in BRI articles
No. of mentions (%)
Chinese economic growth
Chinese power and influence
Bilateral relations with Slovakia
Chinese economic policy
Human rights in China
Chinese influence in Slovakia
Chinese foreign policy
Relations with the USA
The first section of the paper presented the context of Slovak-Chinese relations. It was
shown that Slovakia is one of the most successful CEE countries when it comes to exports to
China, experiencing some of the lowest trade deficits. At the same time, in the previous five
years, the Slovak exports to China have been decreasing. Contrary to that, regarding
investments, Slovakia so far does not host any significant Chinese investments. Yet, this can
change soon with some of the currently negotiated major deals, if successfully concluded.
In the following part, the paper discussed the official policy of Slovakia towards China,
the 16+1 format and BRI. It was mentioned that although Slovakia signed the Memorandum
of Understanding on BRI with China in 2015, it only started to be more active in 2017, with
the two new government documents outlying the China strategy. The content of the
documents is not revolutionary, but the mere fact that the country decided to approve such a
specific strategy makes it unique in the region. While Poland, Hungary, and the Czech
Republic are highly active in developing relations with China, they do not have any
comparable strategic documents.
One of the major hopes of Slovakia regarding BRI is to play a role of transport corridor
between China and Europe. However, for now, Slovakia is located outside the six main
economic corridors planned by the Chinese side as the backbone of BRI. Yet, some Slovak
experts and officials see a potential that a new transport corridor from China via Russia,
Ukraine and entering Eastern Slovakia could be opened and serve as an alternative option to
the Northern route passing Poland. Tensions in Eastern Ukraine may, however, hinder this
plan, since the trains from China would need to pass Russian-Ukrainian border.
The BRI summit in May 2017 as well as the initiative itself, received relatively little
coverage in the Slovak media. Most mainstream media mentioned the initiative but only
briefly. On the other hand, the BRI has a more positive image in the Slovak press than China
in general, being most often linked to positively perceived areas such as economic
cooperation, investments, or infrastructure collaboration.
To conclude, it must be acknowledged that Slovakia follows a somewhat different path
from its neighbors, fuelled less by high-level political support and more by a pragmatic push
from the business sector and economic ministries. Even though it was one of the first
countries to sign the Memorandum of Understanding on BRI with China, its high-level
political support has been significantly lower than has been the case in Hungary, Poland, or
the Czech Republic. On the other hand, the smallest of the V4 group has recently started with
a so-called ‘depoliticized’ approach towards China. Unlike in the neighboring countries, it is
the ministries with the economic portfolio that are the driving forces behind the new strategies
of developing relations with China.
It remains to be seen whether the Slovak case can be different. The country has some
advantages when compared to its V4 neighbors – it is the only one using the Euro as its
currency and it has been one of the frontrunners when it comes to economic reforms,
attracting high amounts of FDI and generally experiencing a rapid economic growth. Even in
terms of its trade with China, Slovakia has the lowest trade deficit in the region, mainly
thanks to its automotive industry exports. It will be interesting to observe whether Slovakia's
pragmatic approach will be more successful than attempts led by strong political support
About the authors
Kristína Kironská, Ph.D. is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Asian
Richard Q. Turcsányi, Ph.D. is the Director of Stratpol – Strategic Policy
Institute in Bratislava and Deputy Director of its affiliated Institute of
Asian Studies. Besides, he is an Assistant Professor at Mendel University in
Brno and Associate Research Fellow at Institute of International Relations