This paper explores how the breakup of Yugoslavia was interpreted, commented on, and used for internal and international political purposes in China, with a focus on the role played by key concepts such as “federalism” and “sovereignty” in consolidating the Chinese interpretation of those dramatic events, and ultimately in shaping the CCP’s pro-Milošević stance in the dramatic unfolding of the conflict in Kosovo. In particular, the preoccupation with separatism and international humanitarian intervention, and the interpretation of the Yugoslav dissolution as a federal failure by the Chinese elite, help link the global event (the collapse of the Balkan political order) to the local Chinese debate on centralization and decentralization, an issue that had been polarizing the CCP since the launch of the “reform and opening” agenda by Deng Xiaoping at the end of the 1970s.

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