China has no greater reliable partner and more sincere friend than Serbia, according to President Aleksandar Vucic said last week in Belgrade at a ceremony remembering the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The Serbian President said that the accusations that his country is becoming China’s greatest friend in Europe is a “boast for us, because we plan to be in the future” and that Serbia was proud to implement the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Any walk-through Belgrade and the Russian influence is evident, with billboards and businesses seen abound. However, the Chinese are now beginning to make an appearance too, and not just through trade deals. The number of Chinese tourists to Serbia is increasing every year according to Vucic, and that in the first seven months of this year, 73,559 Chinese arrived in Serbia, with the expected figure to jump 2018’s number.
“My answer to them is – ‘welcome to Serbia’. Because of this fact, we have joint patrols in Belgrade with Chinese police officers. As you have noticed – nobody in Belgrade and Serbia was bothered by this for a second, and the reason for this is that the citizens of Serbia love the Chinese. We are always together and you were with us when it was difficult, not only when it was easy,” Vucic said.
He explained that China was always a principled and persistent partner, especially during difficult moments, for both of their countries, while remembering the U.S. attack against the Chinese embassy on May 7, 1999, leading to the deaths of 3 journalists and injuring a further 27. But more importantly, he thanked China for supporting Serbia’s territorial integrity and efforts to resolve the Kosovo issue, and that China can count on Serbia’s support in dealing with similar attempts to undermine China’s territorial integrity.
Vucic then paid tribute to China’s development, enormous economic success, successful fight against poverty and opening to the world through the BRI, which, according to him, should not only bring benefits to China, but all countries involved in the initiative. In Belgrade, the evidence is already seen with the Chinese building the Pupin bridge, the first such Chinese structure in Europe. Meanwhile, China has also constructed a section of the Milos Veliki highway; is in the project to modernize the Belgrade to Budapest railway; and, Chinese companies have expanded operations into Serbia like Zidjin in Bor, Shangdong Linglong in Zrenjanin, Mint Automotiv in Loznica, Meit in Obrenovac, and HBIS taking over Smederevo’s Ironworks.
“We will never forget that, ‘HBIS’ literally saved ‘Zelezara’ and the jobs of 5,000 people in Smederevo,” Vucic said, adding that Chinese Bank operates in Serbia and that Serbia promotes itself on the Chinese platform Alibaba.
Vucic emphasized that he is proud that the strategic partnership relations between the two countries are at the highest level in history, and that friendship is the basis for further enrichment of cooperation. He then also went onto note that China is facing humiliation from other parts of the world, as well as its president, asking how many times have heard the assessment that the Chinese economic model cannot survive for long and that China cannot move forward.
Before ending his speech, the Serbian president congratulated his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on his success on leading his country into a bright future, emphasizing that the extraordinary political contacts between the two countries contribute to mutual understanding and support in matters of state and national interests, such as successionist movements.
Xi visited Serbia in 2016, which was crucial as the visit gave opportunities to increase the quality of relations between the two countries. The Chinese president personally promised to help solve the problem of the Ironworks, which was costing $12 million every month, according to Vucic. Impressively revealed by Vucic is that Smederevo’s Železara is today the most successful factory and was Serbia’s largest exporter in 2019.
Because much of Western Europe was involved in the destruction of Yugoslavia and Belgrade, and recognize Kosovo as a separate country from Serbia, China will prove to be a much-needed ally where Belgrade seemingly has few. With NATO destroying Serbia’s economy and infrastructure, it has mostly relied on Russia for its recovery. However, with China now taking an interest, it will only deepen their relations away from only being mutual interests on successionist movements in Kosovo, Tibet and Xinjiang, and strengthen Serbia’s struggling economy.
With momentum on Kosovo’s status slowly tilting back in Serbia’s favour, Belgrade will need to consolidate its relations with Beijing as a priority. With the BRI arriving in Serbia and Belgrade having traditionally strong ties with Moscow, Serbia will be better prepared for any future economic aggression by the U.S. against it, and it is for this reason Vucic says that his country is China’s greatest friend.