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Forging a shared future: Ironclad China-Serbia partnership

Li Ming

Forging a shared future: Ironclad China-Serbia partnership

Editor's note: Decision Makers is a global platform for decision makers to share their insights on events shaping today's world. Li Ming is China's ambassador to Serbia. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

Eight years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping made his first state visit to the Republic of Serbia. This visit resulted in positive outcomes, leading to Serbia becoming China's first comprehensive strategic partner in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). In the past eight years, the China and Serbia relationship has developed exponentially, setting an example for cooperation between China and CEE countries under the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The partnership has significantly contributed to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.

China and Serbia are close friends and partners, sharing an ironclad friendship that has withstood the test of time and thrives despite shifts in the global landscape. In October 2023, President Vucic attended the Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. On the sideline of the forum, the two countries signed the China-Serbia free trade agreement (FTA), the first free trade agreement signed between China and a Central and Eastern European country.

The agreement has played a pivotal role in broadening the bilateral cooperation beyond traditional sectors, particularly into digital and sustainable economies. This strategic expansion has unlocked vast potential in areas such as innovation, new energy, biotechnology and environmental protection, thereby enriching the collaborative landscape between the two countries.

Guided by the significant consensus reached by the two heads of state, the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries has yielded remarkable outcomes. Notably, bilateral trade has witnessed a substantial surge from $596 million in 2016 to $4.35 billion in 2023. Moreover, in 2022, China emerged as the largest source of direct investment for Serbia, underscoring the depth of economic ties between the two nations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping once stated that, "The modernization we are pursuing is not for China alone, but for all developing countries through our joint efforts." His current state visit is anticipated to boost economic and trade relations between the two nations, particularly within the BRI framework.

Serbia, a key partner in the BRI, was among the first European countries to sign a cooperation agreement with China. Projects within the initiative have significantly improved local livelihoods, boosting employment, trade and investment, and energizing Serbia's development. Examples include the Hungary-Serbia railway project and the revitalization of the Smederevo steel plant.

In 2022, the Belgrade-Novi Sad section of the Hungary-Serbia railway was completed, cutting travel time between the two cities from 90 minutes to around 30 minutes. Over the past two years, this section of railway has transported over 7 million passengers.

Belgrade central railway station in Belgrade, capital of Serbia, April 29, 2024. /Xinhua
Belgrade central railway station in Belgrade, capital of Serbia, April 29, 2024. /Xinhua

Belgrade central railway station in Belgrade, capital of Serbia, April 29, 2024. /Xinhua

The Smederevo steel plant was on the brink of closure due to mismanagement. However, under the BRI, China's HBIS partnered with the Serbian government in 2016 to establish HBIS Group Serbia Iron & Steel. Within six months, the plant turned profitable after seven years of losses, becoming Serbia's top exporter for four consecutive years since 2018. This endeavor retained all 5,000 Serbian employees, offering renewed hope to thousands of families. President Xi, in his letter to the steelworkers, gave them "the thumbs up," encouraging further contributions to China-Serbia friendship

As part of former Yugoslavia, Serbia shares a special cultural connection with the Chinese, evoking both cherished memories and somber moments. During the 20th century, Yugoslavian movies and literature enjoyed popularity in China, making Serbia a sought-after destination. Reciprocal visa exemptions, mutual driving license recognition and direct flights have facilitated travel for Chinese visitors and further deepened the people-to-people exchanges between the two nations.

However, Serbia also bears witness to one of China's darkest chapters. In 1999, the former Chinese Embassy in Belgrade was bombed by NATO, resulting in the loss of three Chinese journalists' lives. Today, the site of the bombing has been transformed into the Belgrade China Cultural Center, symbolizing the resilience of the Chinese people. This center embodies the enduring friendship between the Chinese and Serbian people, forged through adversity, and underscores China's commitment to peace and its unwavering national character of not fearing power.

During his visit to Serbia, President Xi will have detailed discussions with President Vucic on shared international and regional concerns, alongside bilateral relations. They will explore ways to enhance bilateral ties, chart a course for the future development of bilateral relations and reinforce practical cooperation between the two countries.

China looks forward to working with Serbia to take this visit as an opportunity to further consolidate the ironclad friendship between the two countries, enhance political mutual trust, broaden practical cooperation, initiate a fresh phase in bilateral relations and contribute to the building of a community with a shared future for mankind.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.)

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