Chinese friendship is defined by Beijing's interests in Europe and World, but also with approach of non-conditionality in bilateral relations. This is quality that is missing in our relations with Western countries.
At the beginning of 2019 Croatia has started building the bridge over Peljesac peninsula. This bridge should connect two different sides of Croatia on Adriatic cost passing by Bosnian town Neum. At that moment, regarding its cooperation with People's Republic of China, Croatia was approximately where Serbia was in 2011, when it started building the Zemun-Borca bridge over Danube river.
During the time of Vojislav Kostunica's government, more precisely during ambassadorial mandate of Miomir Udovicki, Belgrade bravely took over the role of testing ground for Chinese infrastructure projects in Europe. This is strategic orientation that has been respected and even improved by all political configurations in Nemanjina 11 Street (address of Serbian Government) and on Andricev Venac (address of Serbian President office). The fact that Serbia is not part of European Union made bilateral cooperation with Beijing easier, but at the same time, in the context of that cooperation, it made from Belgrade potential target for new pressure coming from Brussels and capitals of leading European countries, but also from USA.
The infrastructural format of bilateral cooperation was accelerated by the establishment of the Secretariat for Cooperation of China with 16 Central and Eastern European countries in Beijing in 2012. and by presenting an Belt and Road initiative in 2013.
In Serbia, Chinese companies were building, built and will build big bridges, thermal power facilities, high-ways, and modern railways. The value of Chinese infrastructural investments in Serbia, mostly through credit lines, has reached 10 billion USD. Also, Belgrade and Beijing consider new infrastructural projects like new bridge on Danube river, technological- industrial parks, new sections of highways or renewal of obsolete railway routes south of Belgrade.
Over the past two to three years, Belgrade has used the wave of development of infrastructural cooperation as a flywheel to attract Chinese direct investments in Smederevo Ironworks (Hesteel, 46 million USD), RTV Bor (Zijin, 1,4 billion USD), Zrenjanin (Shandong Linglong, around 1 billion USD plus an investment of one hundred million USD in a zinc processing plant) and Loznica (Minth Automotive Europe, 100 million USD). Contract with Huawei Company should be added to this but through many smaller investments such as one announced by Ikarbus (Serbian bus factory).
The next logical step in development of Serbian-Chinese cooperation is expand of Serbian export which is, at this moment, statistically negligible in global and even regional frameworks.
The year before last, the value of Serbian exports to China did not exceed 62 million USD. At the same time, imports from China accounted for 8,37 percent of total Serbian imports worth 25,9 billion USD.
Both Belgrade and Beijing say, not without pride, that their relation has never been better in history), so there is no well explained reason why the two countries wouldn't improve these good relations in terms of (of course partial) balancing of the bilateral trade. Belgrade should persuade Beijing to ease custom duties or to provide more favorable conditions for large part of goods from Serbia. Belgrade should also use the existing opportunities in much better ways. Countries that do not cooperate with China in terms of infrastructure as efficiently as Serbia, record more efficient and much more valuable foreign trade with it. This fact tells about need for the state to encourage and help Serbian export.
This attitude is supported by the current trends of China's foreign trade with 16 countries in Central and Eastern Europe. According to the data presented by Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang this month in Dubrovnik (Croatia), China's exchange with countries mentioned above recorded a growth of 21 percent last year and reached the value of 82,2 billion USD. In addition, the growth rate of Chinese imports from the mentioned countries last year exceeded the growth rate of exports to the countries of Central and Eastern Europe by 5 percent.
Chinese foreign direct investments in these countries have increased by 67 percent, shaking, as Keqiang said, the trend of their decline around the world.
When they want to question Serbian-Chinese cooperation, Western analysts point out the structure of Chinese investments (still largely based on direct credit arrangements) and Chinese support for our country's territorial integrity, implying that through infrastructure arrangements Serbia pays for China's support in the UN Security Council.
It is nice to see and feel the spirit of respect for international law in Beijing or at any gathering organized within the activities of the Chinese Secretariat for Cooperation with the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe or the ‘Belt and Road' initiative.
On that occasion, it is often forgotten that Beijing would respect the territorial integrity of Serbia even without the mentioned agreements. At the same time, Serbian support for the policy of one China is unquestionable. Moreover, Security Council Resolution 1244 was adopted with Chinese support at the moment when China had no major investments in Serbia nor it was ready for infrastructure projects that came 10 to 15 years later.
The president of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic, is participating in the Second Belt and Road Forum in Beijing that gathered 40 statesmen. Serbian president had the honor of being among the three who will give the final word at this important gathering.
According to Chinese Ambassador to Belgrade Chen Bo, Vucic enjoys a significant reputation in China and personal respect from President Xi Jinping. This flattering fact, that has been confirmed several times so far, should not be viewed outside the broader context of bilateral relations. To Serbia it was also given a special honor in Beijing before, for example during the establishment of the Secretariat for Cooperation with the Countries of Central and Eastern Europe, mentioned here, when our ambassador addressed the hosts on behalf of all representatives of the mentioned countries. As mutual relations have progressed to the current level of comprehensive strategic partnership, the level of friendship and the level of relations between the two countries have grown.
Chinese friendship is defined by Beijing's interests in Europe and the world, but also by non- conditional approach in bilateral relations which is the quality that is missing in relations with Western countries.
Vucic certainly did not say for no reason that participation in this forum is a great honor for Serbia and a confirmation that China sees a reliable partner in our country, expressing in a statement given to RTS (Serbian TV and Radio State Service) Serbia's strong support for President Xi Jinping's visionary idea of establishing an economic belt along the Silk roads. As one of the most significant initiatives in modern history, even the most important, it will contribute to the progress of mankind.
"The Belt and Road Initiative is a confirmation that for China and President Xi, every country, regardless of social and economic organization, historical heritage or level of development, is equal and that only through joint efforts we can preserve the present and build the future we want", Vucic said.
Having special treatment within such a vision and the power that wants to realize it is an opportunity not to be missed.
Published on April 26th 2019 in Pecat weekly magazine (No 567)