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Chinese president arrives in Serbia for state visit


06-18-2016 09:24 BJT

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BELGRADE, June 17 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived here Friday for a state visit to Serbia as China seeks to carry forward traditional friendship and step up economic engagement with Serbia.

Serbia sent fighter jets to escort Xi's plane when it entered the country's airspace. Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan were greeted by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and his wife, Parliament Speaker Maja Gojkovic, Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic at the airport.

BELGRADE, June 17, 2016 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are greeted by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and his wife upon their arrival at the airport of Belgrade, Serbia, June 17, 2016. Xi started a state visit to Serbia Friday.(Xinhua/Rao Aimin)

BELGRADE, June 17, 2016 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife Peng Liyuan are greeted by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and his wife upon their arrival at the airport of Belgrade, Serbia, June 17, 2016. Xi started a state visit to Serbia Friday.(Xinhua/Rao Aimin)

Serbian children presented bread and salt to Xi and Peng for them to taste, a Serbian tradition to show respect and friendship to distinguished guests. The couple also received flowers and watched the performance of traditional Serbian folk dance, Kolo.

"The traditional friendship between our two countries and peoples has stood the historical test amid the changes of the international landscape and our respective national conditions, and become even stronger," the Chinese president said in a written speech delivered at the airport.

Xi noted the accelerated progress in bilateral ties especially since the establishment of the strategic partnership between China and Serbia in 2009.

The Chinese president also hailed the mutual political trust and the fruitful cooperation in such fields as energy, transportation infrastructure construction and agriculture over recent years.

"China stands ready to work with Serbia to keep the momentum and push our relations and practical cooperation to a higher level, thus creating a new situation for our mutually beneficial cooperation and common development," he said.

It is the first visit by a Chinese head of state to Serbia in 32 years, and Xi's second trip -- following one to the Czech Republic in March -- to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) in less than three months.

During his stay in Serbia, Xi will meet Nikolic and other Serbian political leaders for discussions on bilateral relations, the Belt and Road Initiative and China-CEE cooperation, as well as global and regional hot-spot issues of common concern.

A number of cooperation deals covering economy, trade, industrial capacity and finance are expected to be inked.

In a demonstration of China's willingness to consolidate political mutual trust and expand practical cooperation with CEE countries, Xi will travel from Serbia to Poland for a state visit.

China and Serbia share a time-honored traditional friendship. In 2009, Serbia became the first CEE country to establish a strategic partnership with China.

Nikolic paid a state visit to China in 2013. Last year, he went to Beijing again to attend the commemorative activities marking the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War. Serbia also dispatched a formation to participate in China's V-Day military parade on Sept. 3, 2015.

Two-way trade grew by 2.3 percent year on year to 550 million U.S. dollars in 2015, according to Chinese customs.

Also last year, Serbia signed a memorandum of understanding with China to jointly promote the connectivity-based Belt and Road Initiative during the fourth leaders' meeting of China and 16 CEE countries, which was held in Suzhou, China.

The initiative, proposed by Xi in 2013, consists of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. It is aimed at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes.

China and Serbia have strengthened cooperation on infrastructure construction and investment over recent years.

Serbia's sole steel mill in the city of Smederevo, which had experienced difficulties in operation, was bought by China's HeSteel Group (HBIS) for 46 million euros (51.6 million U.S. dollars) in April this year.

HBIS plans to invest at least 300 million euros (337.6 million dollars) in the steel mill and turn it into one of the most competitive in Europe. The Chinese company has promised to employ all 5,000 workers of the factory.

On the cultural front, Yugoslavian films had a considerable influence among the Chinese people. Last month, a widespread nostalgia was sparked across China by the death of 83-year-old actor Velimir Bata Zivojinovic, who is popular among the older generation in China for his role of Walter from the 1972 movie "Walter Defends Sarajevo."

"The Chinese president's visit is of historic significance for the two countries to cement traditional friendship, deepen political mutual trust and chart the course for practical cooperation," Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Haixing told reporters ahead of Xi's visit.

After Serbia and Poland, the Chinese president will travel to Uzbekistan for a state visit as well as the 16th meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Heads of State in Tashkent.

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