Xi, Vucic hold talks, hail evergrowing ironclad friendship
China, Serbia elevate comprehensive strategic partnership
Published: May 09, 2024 12:39 AM
Tens of thousands of Serbian people chant “China! Serbia!” while waving Chinese and Serbian national flags as they welcome the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Belgrade on May 8, 2024. Photo: Xinhua

Tens of thousands of Serbian people chant “China! Serbia!” while waving Chinese and Serbian national flags as they welcome the visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping in Belgrade on May 8, 2024. Photo: Xinhua

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Wednesday signed a joint statement on building a community with shared future in the new era in Belgrade, making Serbia the first European country to build such a community with China.

In the joint statement, the two countries decided to deepen and elevate the China-Serbia comprehensive strategic partnership. Serbia was the first Central and Eastern European country to become China's comprehensive strategic partner eight years ago.

"It is a strategic choice made by both sides to build a China-Serbia community with a shared future in the new era. Its goal is to realize the aspiration of the two peoples for a better life. Its foundation and driving force come from the firm support and extensive participation of the two peoples," Xi told reporters during a joint press conference with Vucic. 

Xi also announced six measures to support the building of a China-Serbia community with a shared future. 

China is ready to import more quality and distinctive agricultural products from Serbia. China welcomes Serbia to increase direct flights between Belgrade and Shanghai, and encourages airlines from both sides to launch direct flights between Belgrade and Guangzhou. 

The Chinese side will aid 50 young Serbian scientists in exchange programs with China for the next three years and a total of 300 Serbian youths will be invited to study in China in the next three years, said Xi. 

China supports Serbia in hosting Expo 2027, and will send a delegation to participate in the grand show. China encourages its enterprises to take part in the construction of relevant projects, Xi said.

With joint efforts from China and Serbia, the free trade agreement between the two countries will take effect on July 1, Xi said. 

During his talks with Vucic on Wednesday in Belgrade, Xi said bilateral relations between China and Serbia are richer in content and have become a model of friendly relations between China and European countries. 

Xi called on China and Serbia to carry forward the innovative nature of bilateral relations, open up new prospects for cooperation, and make innovative cooperation a new growth point of bilateral ties. 

Xi was greeted by tens of thousands of Serbians on Wednesday and a welcoming ceremony was held outside the Palace of Serbia before the meeting between the two leaders. 

Chinese national flags and Chinese-language welcoming banners were hanging on landmark buildings in Belgrade on Wednesday.  

Chinese and Serbian experts said the meeting between the two heads of state will continue to provide high-level guidance to the sound development of bilateral relationship for the years to come and further inject vitality into the time-weathered, ironclad friendship. 

Chinese national flags are displayed in Belgrade on May 5, 2024. Photo: VCG

Chinese national flags and welcome banners are displayed in Belgrade, Serbia  on May 5, 2024. Photo: VCG

Ironclad friendship 

On Tuesday, a signed article by President Xi titled "May the Light of Our Ironclad Friendship Shine on the Path of China-Serbia Cooperation" was published in Serbian media Politika.   

Xi noted in the article that "there has always been an affinity between Chinese and Serbian peoples despite the long distance between us. During the bitter Anti-Fascist War and our respective nation-building in the last century, the Chinese and Serbian peoples forged a strong friendship that extends through time and space." 

"Amid the ongoing transformations unseen in a century in the world, our mutual support remains as strong as ever, our cooperation is closer, and our exchanges and mutual learning more substantive. Whatever changes in the international landscape, China and Serbia remain true friends and good partners. Our ironclad friendship is ever-growing, setting a model for state-to-state and people-to-people interactions," Xi wrote. 

The long-lasting friendship and win-win cooperation between China and Serbia makes it clear to us that a stronger bilateral relationship conforms with the trend of history and serves the best interests of our two peoples. It also helps promote our common progress. On the new journey of the new era, the China-Serbia comprehensive strategic partnership has more potential for further growth.

Xi said China and Serbia should always be good friends and treat each other with sincerity, good partners for win-win cooperation, play an exemplary role in promoting fairness and justice and strengthen the heart-to-heart connection between their two peoples. 

Chinese and Serbian observers shared the consensus that since Xi’s last visit, bilateral cooperation has entered fast track with numerous notable fruits.

With China's support, hundreds of kilometers of highways have been built, the fastest railway in Eastern Europe entered operation, and energy facilities keep renewing, Boyan Lalic, Director of the Belt and Road Institute Belgrade, told the Global Times Wednesday. 

The China-built high-speed railway connecting Belgrade to Novi Sad, inexpensive and comfortable, has cut the previously 1.5-hour trip to just 36 minutes, making a two-city life possible for many young people seeking opportunities, the Global Times learned. 

The railway is part of a more ambitious project linking Belgrade and Budapest, the capital of Hungary, which could finish construction by 2026, according to estimate. The flagship project has created jobs, offered unique career experience and trainings, and has allowed people like Serbian engineer Aleksandra Milosavljevic to "make really good friends with my Chinese colleagues." 

Bilateral trade soared from $596 million in 2016 to $4.35 billion in 2023 and China became the largest source of direct investment for Serbia in 2022, per official data.

Join hands on international stage 

In the signed article, Xi wrote "Twenty-five years ago today, NATO flagrantly bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia ... This we should never forget. The Chinese people cherish peace, but we will never allow such tragic history to repeat itself." 

The China-Serbia friendship, forged with the blood of our compatriots, will stay in the shared memory of the Chinese and Serbian peoples, and will inspire us to march forward with big strides, Xi wrote.

Dong Yifan, a research fellow at the Institute of European Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, said that both China and Serbia adhere to independence and non-alignment in their strategic approaches, choosing to follow their own development paths and opposing hegemony. "We share a strong consensus in international affairs."

The last stop of Xi's three-nation European trip is Hungary, during which a series of cooperation agreements are expected to be signed, according to media reports. 

Both Serbia and Hungary are pillar countries in China-proposed BRI, and have long been at the forefront of European countries' relations with China with close cooperation, Dong said, adding that high-level diplomacy has played a key role in the two countries' relations with China. 

He Zhigao, a research fellow with the Institute of European Studies of CASS, told the Global Times that Serbia and Hungary "stand out" among European countries in regard to developing China ties partly because they can overcome some external restraints and make more independent decisions based on their own interests.

A train is to leave Belgrade station for Novi Sad, Serbia, May 6, 2023. The 80-kilometer-long, Chinese-built Belgrade-Novi Sad high-speed railway has been carrying passengers at speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour since March 2022. (Xinhua/Ren Pengfei)

A train is to leave Belgrade central station for Novi Sad on May 6, 2023 in Serbia. The 80-kilometer-long, Chinese-built Belgrade-Novi Sad high-speed railway has been carrying passengers at speeds of up to 200 kilometers per hour since March 2022. (Xinhua/Ren Pengfei)