Steel Plant: Source of Happiness for a City—A Model Project of the Belt and Road Initiative
Published: Sep 06, 2021 06:47 PM
With a few hours drive from Serbia's capital Belgrade, one would arrive at the ancient city of Smederevo, where the high-rising boilers and cooling towers tell the location of Zelezara Smederevo, the steel plant. Within the plant, hot rolling machines are roaring with sparks of molten steel. Staff at the central control room closely monitor the operations of each workshop through the surveillance screen.

‘Chinese element’ of Smederevo steel plant in Serbia

‘Chinese element’ of Smederevo steel plant in Serbia

Founded in 1913, the century-old steel plant known as the "Serbian Pride," was once on the verge of closedown due to poor management. Vladimir Ilich, who was in charge of security and fire-prevention at Zelezara Smederevo, recalled that in the darkest days, he and his colleagues feared that they would wake up in the morning to find themselves jobless. And when nobody knows what to do, the Chinese company came. In April 2016, the HBIS Group from China acquired Zelezara Smederevo with 46 million euros and brought the centennial plant back to life. In a few months, the plant's monthly output grew from 60,000 tons to 129,000 tons. It began to make profits and has secured the high yield since then. Now, the new port of HBIS Group Serbia is bustling with "freighters loaded with raw material supplies to the plant," according to a local worker who just finished unloading ores and pellets from Ukraine. He also told reporter that not long ago he bought his dream house which lies right opposite to the port on the other side of the Danube.

After the acquisition, the HBIS group sent Chinese technicians to Smederevo to help with equipment maintenance and system renovation. HBIS also invited the Serbian management team and production technicians to their training courses in China. Now, there are only a few Chinese managers at the plant, and its daily operation and management are under the charge of the local staff. Vice director of the hot rolling workshop Ivan Matkovic said that his grandfather and his father had both worked at the plant. As the family's third generation at the plant, he is currently at a higher-ranking position than his elders. Matkovic is happy with the plant's mode of management and his job. The plant employs 5,000 local people, whose wages and benefits have improved notably. Local unemployment rate has dropped significantly. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić (the then Prime Minister) commended that the Chinese partners brought real hope to his country.

The hope brought by China has turned into credible driving force of development. Following the acquisition, the HBIS Group invested hundreds of millions of US dollars for the thorough renovation of the plant's production line and realized all-round improvement of its production technology. HBIS made full use of the favorable conditions, such as the port, local market potential, and preferential policies, and developed upstream and downstream industries as well as the cement and glass industries near the steel plant. It also set up a new industrial park to further improve local industrial chains and industrial structure. Notably, the local education, medical services, transport and living conditions have been significantly improved, delivering a much better life for the local people. To borrow the locals' words: "the steel plant has become a source of happiness for the city."

President Xi Jinping visited Zelezara Smederevo in June 2016.

President Xi Jinping visited Zelezara Smederevo in June 2016

President Xi Jinping visited Zelezara Smederevo in June 2016. He pointed out he was convinced that with the close cooperation of the two sides, the Zelezara Smederevo would surely revitalize and play a positive role in creating jobs, improving people's lives and boosting Serbia's development. China is promoting Belt and Road cooperation with partner countries and has made solid progress in cooperation with Serbia and other Central and Eastern European countries. One would never be aware of how high the sky is until he ascends a high mountain. Seizing the opportunities brought by the Belt and Road cooperation, China and Central and Eastern European countries are now climbing a high mountain to envision the bright future for their common development and prosperity.