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Xi's visit to further lift Great Wall-like China-Serbia friendship

Editor: Zhang Jianfeng 丨Xinhua

06-17-2016 17:17 BJT

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BELGRADE, June 17 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping kicked off a historic visit to Serbia on Friday, in a trip that Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said "sends a strong signal that China values its friendship with Serbia."

The visit, a testimony to the time-tested and trusted friendship between the two sides, shows that "China seriously considers Serbia as its great partner," said Nikolic.

Serbia was the first Central and Eastern European (CEE) country to forge a strategic partnership with China. In September last year, Nikolic, along with a group of Serbian troops, came to China for the commemoration activities for the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War, also known as World War II (WWII).

It was the first time that foreign troops had been invited to participate in China's military parade.

Hosting Nikolic in Beijing, Xi recalled that China and Serbia made tremendous sacrifices in WWII and made great contributions to the eventual defeat of the Fascist forces in Asia and Europe. In the future, it is still their common objective and sacred mission to jointly safeguard the hard-won world peace, Xi said.

Speaking highly of China's role in promoting world peace and development, Nikolic said China's rise is a blessing for the world, and hailed the Chinese people's pursuit of freedom and equality. "Grudges in the past should not hinder international cooperation at present, thus all participants of WWII, including Japan and Germany, should attend China's commemorative activities to prevent historical tragedies from happening again," the president said.

The two countries' firm support for each other on issues concerning their core interests demonstrates the nature of their strategic partnership, said China's ambassador to Serbia, Li Manchang.

"China and Serbia have built such a relationship on the basis of equality and mutual trust, which has helped safeguard global equality and justice and is a model for China-CEE cooperation," Li said.

Xi's ongoing trip to Serbia and later Poland, which follows his first visit to the region in March this year, highlights the importance of the CEE countries in China's foreign policy.

"This kind of family visit-style tours to traditionally friendly countries will further enhance mutual trust between China and its destination countries," said Chen Yurong, a scholar with the China Institute of International Studies.

Serbia was one of the first nations to embrace China's Belt and Road Initiative. Working on reindustrialization of the nation, Serbia will benefit from increased Chinese investment and the expanding connectivity across the continent.

"The arrival of the Chinese president is a signal to Chinese investors and business people, as well as Serbian businessmen, that new and wider opportunities are about to be created for various kinds of economic cooperation," said Jurij Bajec, a professor at the Faculty of Economics of Belgrade University and a special adviser at the Economics Institute.

Investors from other countries will "also see in the visit some kind of a guarantee that new, big business ventures will start in Serbia, and will consider coming to Serbia too for their own interest," Bajec said.

Serbia is the European chair of infrastructure construction within the China-CEE cooperation framework, also known as the 16+1 mechanism. With an abundant manufacturing capacity, China can support local production in CEE countries in win-win cooperation between the two sides, said Wang Yiwei, head of the European Union Research Center at China's Renmin University.

China and Serbia have been working on transportation and energy projects, and are mulling major projects involving industrial parks, highways, ports and power stations. Their cooperation has been designed from a structural and long-term point of view, and complements each other's economic strengths.

China's HeSteel Group (HBIS) inked a 51.8-million-U.S.-dollar deal to buy Serbia's sole steel mill in April, guaranteeing the 5,000 jobs for the current employees in the Smederevo steel mill.

"We are confident that we will turn the steel mill in Smederevo into a modern complex, with advanced technology, equipment, a raised level of environmental protection and good working conditions. Our aim will be to turn Smederevo into one of the most competitive steel mills in Europe," said HBIS President Yu Yong.

The Serbian part of the Serbia-Hungary railway, a flagship project between China and the two countries, was started in December last year.

Addressing a ceremony for the start of the project, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic thanked both the Chinese and Serbian teams for their arduous efforts to push ahead the Hungary-Serbia railway, calling it "another breakthrough in pragmatic cooperation between Serbia and China."

The Serbia-Hungary railway brings Serbia closer to the central regions of Europe, and will help transform Serbia into a regional pivot of transportation and logistics, Vucic said, adding that his country is ready to work with China to ensure the opening of the Serbia-Hungary railway in 2018.

Successful cooperation as such includes the Belgrade bridge over the Danube and the Kostolac power station. Construction on a Chinese car parts factory with joint investment from both countries and a projected employment of 1,400 people also began in Belgrade's suburbs in April.

Joint projects by China and Serbia over recent years have been expanding from transportation to various fields such as energy, steel, communication and finance, with cooperation models upgraded from loans to investment and joint ventures, said the Chinese ambassador.

The China-Serbia friendship, marked by common memories like the 1972 movie "Walter Defends Sarajevo," has become -- in the Serbian president's words -- "as strong as the Great Wall."

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