08 May 2024, 16:22

China's Xi in Serbia for talks to boost economic ties

BELGRADE, May 8, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic 
reaffirmed his strong support for China's sovereignty over Taiwan as he gave 
a lavish welcome to President Xi Jinping who is seeking to deepen political 
and economic ties with friendlier countries in Europe.

China has poured billions into Serbia and neighbouring Balkan countries, 
particularly into mining and manufacturing, and last year Beijing and 
Belgrade signed a free trade agreement.
Xi and his wife Peng Liyuan were greeted by Vucic on a red carpet outside the 
main government offices in Belgrade on Wednesday.

The Chinese leader was met by a gun salute and the Chinese national anthem, 
as helicopters whirred overhead, before shaking hands with officials 
including the prime minister and the National Bank of Serbia governor.

The two leaders waved from a balcony to a crowd of several thousand waiting 
outside, pictures from state broadcaster RTS showed, some waving Chinese 

Vucic welcomed Xi and called him a "friend of Serbia".

"Such respect and love as he will find here in our Serbia, he will not find 
anywhere else," Vucic added. 

He told the crowd as Xi applauded: "We have a clear and simple position 
regarding Chinese territorial integrity. Yes, Taiwan is China". China has 
stepped up diplomatic pressure on the island that it has claimed for decades.

The Chinese president arrived in Belgrade on Tuesday from a state visit to 
France that saw sometimes robust exchanges with President Emmanuel Macron on 
trade and China's close ties to Russia despite the Ukraine war.

The other two countries chosen for Xi's first trip to Europe since 2019 -- 
with Hungary as the final stop after Serbia -- are among the most sympathetic 
to Moscow in Europe.
Serbian finance minister Sinisa Mali told state broadcaster RTS that 
discussions Wednesday would centre on "a great project". 

"We are aiming to attract a major investment from China in a very promising 
area," he said, adding "I won't reveal our cards at this moment."

Streets in the Serbian capital were decked out with Chinese flags, along with 
posters and billboards that proclaimed a "warm welcome" to "Chinese friends". 

- NATO bombing -

Xi's visit also coincided with the 25th anniversary of the 1999 US bombing of 
the Chinese embassy there, which killed three people. 

"Do not forget that our Chinese friends were with us 25 years ago when this 
country was being demolished and bombed," Vucic told the crowds. 

"They paid a high price, they lost people only a few hundred meters from here 
on this very day." 

The embassy was hit during a months-long, US-led NATO campaign targeting 
Serbian security forces who were at war with ethnic-Albanian insurgents in 

The US later apologised, saying outdated maps had led the pilot to strike the 
wrong target.
On Tuesday, Xi wrote in Serbian daily Politika that NATO had "flagrantly 
bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia", warning that China would "never 
allow such tragic history to repeat itself". 

China has long backed Serbia's territoral claims over the breakaway province 
of Kosovo and along with Russia has prevented its recognition at the United 

He also hailed the "ironclad friendship" between China and Serbia, which he 
said was "forged with the blood of our compatriots".

Stefan Vladisavljev, programme director at the Foundation BFPE for a 
Responsible Society, said that the date of the visit gave it "significant 
symbolic importance".

- Ukraine fears -

People in Belgrade welcomed Xi's visit.

"I think it's an excellent thing, this visit from the president of one of the 
most powerful countries in the world," 67-year-old Stojan Vidovic, a retiree, 
told AFP.

"It's fantastic for us," agreed 69-year-old Dijana Radic, a former 
translator. She said she hoped there would be "results from this visit, 
something good for both parties".

In France, Xi met with Macron and EU Commission President Ursula von der 
Leyen. They urged him not to allow the export of technology that could be 
used by Russia in Ukraine and to do all it could to end the war. 

Xi warned the West not to "smear" China over the conflict and also hit back 
at accusations that Chinese overcapacity was causing global trade imbalances. 

Europe is concerned that while officially neutral over the Ukraine conflict, 
China is essentially backing Russia, which is using Chinese machine tools in 
arms production. 

After meeting with Vucic, Xi will go later Wednesday to Hungary where China 
has invested heavily in vast battery and electric vehicle (EV) manufacturing 

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