Serbia is the first country in Central and Eastern Europe to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with China, and is one of the most important participants in the “Belt and Road” Initiative
China and Serbia’s co-operation within the framework of the “Belt and Road” Initiative has fully reflected the characteristics of mutual benefit and win-win, and in the future, the “Belt and Road” Initiative will definitely continue to promote the development of bilateral relations.
China is one of Serbia’s most important trade partners. According to your data, what did the trade between China and Serbia amount to last year? In which fields can companies from the two countries establish cooperation?
— In recent years, the economic and trade cooperation between China and Serbia has been enhanced, and the bilateral trade volume is growing rapidly year by year. According to the statistics of the Chinese side, the China-Serbia trade volume in 2018 totaled 950 million USD, up by 25.8% compared with 2017. China’s export to Serbia was 730 million USD, up by 33.5%; the import from Serbia stood at 730 million USD, up by 25.8%. The main goods China imported from Serbia were timber and non-ferrous metals, and China’s main export goods include electrical appliances, electronic communication devices and mechanical equipment. For now, relevant government departments of the two countries are actively strengthening cooperation in the field of agro-food inspection and quarantine, and promoting the entry of Serbia’s high-quality agro-products and dairy products into the Chinese market. We welcome Serbian companies touse the China International Import Expo and other platforms to strengthen exchanges with Chinese companies, and to further up-grade the level of trade cooperation between the two countries.
How often do China business-men turn to you for advice as to how to reach the Serbian market and how do you present Serbia as an investment destination to potential investors?
— I’m receiving investors from China almost every day. Serbia is the first country in Central and Eastern Europe to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with China, and is one of the most important participants in the “Belt and Road” Initiative. Thanks to our excellent bilateral relations, companies from both countries have been increasingly keen on cooperation with each other in recent years, and more and more Chinese companies are coming to Serbia, searching for cooperation opportunities and exploring the Serbian market. Nowadays, the Serbian government is committed to economic reforms, strives to improve the business environment, attracts foreign investment, provides preferential policies, and creates a favorable environment for corporate investment. Besides, Serbia is located in the hinterland of CEE, with convenient access to transport facilities and to a wide neighboring markets, and the land and labour costs are relatively low. These are also Serbia’s major advantages to attract foreign investment. Many Chinese companies such as HeSteel Group, ZiJin and LINGLONG have set good examples for investment cooperation in Serbia, and we believe more Chinese companies would choose to investment in Serbia and conduct cooperation in the future.
How important is the Belt and Road project for the Chinese-Serbian relations?
— The “Belt and Road” Initiative responds to the calls of the era of generalization. Since more than 5 years ago when it was proposed, considerable achievements have been made in all aspects, and it has brought substantial benefits to people of countries along the routes. Serbia is one of the first countries to join the “Belt and Road” Initiative, and has proposed the docking of its own “Re-industrialization Strategy” with the “Belt and Road” Initiative, bringing new momentum to the economic and social development. By entering the market of Serbia and striving to adapt to the European standards, the Chinese companies have also opened up new paths for their own development. Moreover, the two countries have made great achievements in people-to-people cooperation in fields such as culture, education and tourism.What areas of cooperation between the two countries does this project open?— China has always adhered to the principles of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation. Within the framework of the “Belt and Road” Initiative, we encourage companies from both countries to carry out all-round cooperation in trade, investment, finance, infrastructure construction and other fields, to upgrade the comprehensive level of cooperation between the two countries.
What are the common economic goals two countries may pursue in the international arena?
— As a staunch defender of economic globalization, China has always adhered to trade liberalization, promoted the establishment of multilateral systems, and promoted win-win cooperation among all countries of the world. However, volatility and uncertainties have significantly increased in the current international environment, a trend of de-globalization has risen, and the economic growth lacks new impetus. How to further enhance new momentum and promote the sustained and stable growth of the world economy is a common concern of all parties. China is willing to work with countries around the world including Serbia to promote economic globalization, safeguard free trade, oppose protectionism, promote the building of a community of a shared future for mankind, and advance the shared prosperity of all countries in the world.
Do you expect the Chinese Serbian cooperation related to Huawei and the Serbian state telecommunication company to be affected in line with the some disputes elsewhere in the world?
— The United States uses state power for political purposes to suppress Huawei, but it turns out that the rumors without evidence are untenable. Up to now, Huawei has signed cooperation contracts with a number of countries to continuously promote the application of technologies such as 5G to social development. Huawei regards Serbia as an important partner in the Balkan region, and has located its Balkan Research Center in Serbia. Thanks to the support from the relevant departments of the Serbian government and all sectors of society, the several cooperation projects jointly implemented by Huawei and the Serbian side are progress-ing smoothly at present. I believe that Huawei’s cooperation with Serbia can achieve greater success.
How the development of political and economic relations affected tourism and cultural exchange?
— With the in-depth development of the political and economic pragmatic cooperation between the two countries, the people-to-people ties are getting strengthened. In January 2017, the Agreement on Mutual Visa Exemption for Ordinary Passport Holders between China and Serbia took effect, and Serbia became the first country in Europe to exempt visas for ordinary passport holders from China. It has not only facilitated business and cultural exchanges, but also promoted tourism cooperation. In 2018, more than 100,000 trips were made by Chinese tourists in Serbia. The Chinese people can be seen in places such as the city center and Kalemegdan fortress. The Chinese language lessons have been available in nearly 100 primary and secondary schools in Serbia, and more and more Serbian students are beginning to learn Chinese. The exchanges between universities of the two countries are being strengthened, as well. Shanghai Jiaotong University has signed cooperation agreements with the Ministry of Education of Serbia and several Serbian universities such as the Universities of Belgrade and of Novi Sad. Chinese festivals, music, and food are popular in Serbia, and Serbian sports stars also enjoy a large number of fans in China. “The friendship between peoples is the foundation of state-to-state relations”, and the deepening people-to-people ex-changes between the two countries will further promote the stable development of bilateral relations.
How in that respect do you estimate regional joint tourism offer for Chinese tourists? How we should further differentiate our tourism offer toward young-er generations of the Chinese travelers?
— Every Western Balkan country has its own unique, pearl-like tourism and cultural resources. We hope that all countries can work together to launch a joint tourist route to Chinese tourists, and to string these beautiful pearls together, in which regard lies huge potential. Serbia has rich and unique tourism resources, with numerous mountains, spas, canyons, wineries and monasteries, etc. However, in order to attract more young tourists from China, it is necessary to strengthen tourism infrastructure construction, promote the mutual recognition of driving licenses, launch mobile payments, and simplify tax refund procedures, by which more amenity and convenience would be available for tourists. Of course, the most important issue is to strengthen the advertisement and promotion of Serbian tourism and let more Chinese people know about Serbia.
AN EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY
Do you consider that there might be possible challenges in bilateral economic cooperation having in mind the obligation Serbia has within the EU accession process?
— Serbia is currently an active candidate member country of the EU. When joining in the EU, Serbia will fully implement the more stringent standards of the EU, and adapting to these standards may be a challenge for Chinese companies in the short term. However, in the long run, learning and adapting to EU standards can help the Chinese companies constantly improve their development capacity and adaptability, which would be an excellent opportunity. We encourage the Chinese companies to embrace the challenges, seize the development opportunities, evolve together with Serbian companies, and thereby, to improve the quality of cooperation between the two sides, and further advance the high-quality development of bilateral relations.