China-Serbia ironclad friendship sets a model of shared fulfillment: Serbian deputy PM
Published: May 20, 2023 12:00 AM
China Serbia Photo: VCG

Photo: VCG

The Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between China and Serbia is expected to be signed by the end of this year, Siniša Mali, Serbia's deputy prime minister and minister of finance, told the Global Times in a recent exclusive interview.

From railways to telecommunications, the achievements of China-Serbia cooperation have continued to be a benchmark for success, bringing significant benefits to the two peoples and bilateral trade.

Sini?a Mali, Serbia's deputy prime minister and minister of finance  Photo: Courtesy of Serbian embassy in Beijing

Sinisa Mali, Serbia's deputy prime minister and minister of finance Photo: Courtesy of Serbian embassy in Beijing

Mali believes that, amid world's turbulence and conflicts, the ironclad friendship between the two countries sets a model of common fulfilment and mutual trust for other countries.

"The past decade has had a decisive impact on the relations between Serbia and China. We take pride in maintaining a 'steel friendship' with a nation that is one of the most important players in global politics and one of the most significant economic and political forces in the world today," said Mali.

Mali stressed that the China-Central & Eastern European Countries (CEEC) cooperation mechanism and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) play a vital role in bilateral ties. Serbia "actively and strongly supports" both initiatives proposed by China, Serbia's most important trading partner in Asia.

The deputy prime minister said that Serbia "is glad to have had the opportunity" to be present at important events such as the 3rd China-CEEC Expo that kicked off in Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province, on Tuesday, as they "continuously provide an opportunity to discuss Serbia's potential and agree on future collaborations."

The scale of the expo and steady growth in China-CEEC trade underscores the great potential for further expansion of China-CEEC win-win economic and trade cooperation, according to observers. The five-day expo has attracted the participation of more than 3,000 exhibitors, including over 400 exhibitors from CEEC and other European countries, displaying over 5,000 kinds of products ranging from agricultural food, wines and cosmetics to intelligent manufacturing, as well as services offerings.

Mali believes that the relations between China and Serbia are currently the best in their history and they are constantly improving with the growth of economic parameters, investments, imports, exports, and employment.

"Our excellent cooperation with China plays an important role in our economic progress and development," he said.

"Through the China-CEEC mechanism, Serbia initiated and implemented a number of infrastructure projects," according to Mali. "One of the most important events of this year is the start of construction of the Serbian-Chinese Industrial Park Mihajlo Pupin in Belgrade, which will create about 20,000 jobs. It is a direct and most important advantage for the Serbian citizens since modern jobs are fundamental for us and we create them through this kind of cooperation."

Examples of successful cooperation between Serbia and China predominantly lie in the areas of infrastructure, transport, and energy. The volume of exchange between the two states in the past two years has increased by 75 percent. During the past two years, China has been the largest foreign investor in Serbia. In the three quarters of 2022 alone, investment volume reached 1 billion euros, the deputy prime minister said.

Companies owned by Chinese investors in Serbia are the top three exporters from Serbia to the world, generating $2.9 billion worth of exports in 2022, or 10 percent of Serbia's total exports to the world, Mali noted.

A stretch of the Belgrade-Budapest Railway that connects Belgrade and Novi Sad in Serbia marked its first anniversary of operation on March 19. The project is a sign of high-quality BRI cooperation between China, Hungary and Serbia and a flagship project for cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries.

Mali said the project, upon its completion, will be of immeasurable importance for faster transport connections between Serbia and its neighboring countries.

"Other countries in Central and Eastern Europe are eager to develop such type of cooperation that we have accomplished," Mali stated.

China's Minister of Commerce Wang Wentao and Serbia's Minister of Domestic and Foreign Trade Tomislav Momirovic jointly signed a memorandum of understanding in mid-April to start negotiations on a FTA between the two countries, which will inject more momentum into deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two countries.

This mutual expectation, if realized, will create new business opportunities for Serbian agricultural and food producers, winemakers and grape growers, as well as the IT sector and timber processing industry, according to Serbian media reports.

Mali believes that trustworthiness, respect, and similar traditional family values are still cherished and appreciated both in Serbia and China, which truly bond the two peoples.

"Undoubtedly, I am deeply convinced that by continuing our earnest friendship, we can show the world how, to shared fulfillment, the relationship between the two countries ought to be built," he said.

"There is a lot of turbulence, disagreements, and misunderstandings in the world. There are exceptionally few examples [of cooperation] as ours is. We would be very happy and would appreciate it if, apart from development, infrastructure projects, job creation for our citizens, etc., our relationship sets an example for other nations," he said.