BELGRADE, June 19, 2016 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd R, front), accompanied by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic (1st R, front) and Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic (3rd R, front), visits Serbia's sole steel mill in Smederevo, Serbia, June 19, 2016. The steel mill was acquired by China's HeSteel Group in April. (Xinhua/Ma Zhancheng)
BELGRADE, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping visited a Chinese-invested steel plant and interacted with its workers on Sunday.
Accompanied by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, Xi took a tour of Zelezara Smederevo, Serbia's sole steel mill, on the last day of his three-day state visit to the Balkan country.
At the plant, the Chinese president delivered a speech hailing the profound traditional friendship between the two countries and Serbia's successful experience in economic development which China had drawn on in the early days of its reform and opening-up.
"Now Chinese and Serbian businesses have joined hands to usher in new chapters in industrial capacity cooperation between our two countries," Xi said.
"This has not only carried forward our traditional friendship, but also demonstrated our resolve to deepen reform and achieve win-win results," he said.
The Smederevo steel mill, founded in 1913, experienced difficulties and was acquired by China's HeSteel Group (HBIS) for 46 million euros (51.6 million U.S. dollars) in April this year.
The Chinese steel group plans to invest at least 300 million euros (337.6 million dollars) and turn it into one of the most competitive steel mills in Europe. The Chinese company employed all the 5,000 or so workers of the plant.
"I believe that with the close cooperation of the two sides, the Smederevo steel mill will surely be revitalized and play a positive role in creating jobs, improving people's lives and helping Serbian economic development," the Chinese president said.
He said that China looks forward to having more major cooperation projects with Serbia and bringing greater benefits to both peoples.
Serbian President Nikolic and Prime Minister Vucic said in their speeches that the Serbia-China cooperation has enabled the Smederevo steel mill to turn a new page and that it will usher in further bilateral cooperation.
The leaders of the two countries also toured the workshops of the steel mill. Xi went to the dining room to interact with workers of the plant, encouraging them to work hard to bring benefits to local residents.
"We are expecting to resume full production and achieve two million tons production by the end of this year. All of our workers are excited and appreciate China HeSteel's efforts," Vlavan Mihailovic, chief operation officer of the plant, told Xinhua.
"We are very excited about President Xi's visit and are confident about a bright future with HeSteel Group," he said.
China and Serbia have strengthened cooperation in infrastructure and investment in recent years.
Besides the Smederevo steel mill, the two countries have worked together on major projects like the Belgrade-Budapest Railway, the Mihajlo Pupin Bridge, the E763 Motorway, and the expansion and upgrading of Kostolac Power Plant.
During Xi's visit to Serbia, the first by a Chinese head of state in 32 years, China and Serbia upgraded their ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership and signed cooperation deals covering industrial capacity, finance, infrastructure, trade, energy, telecommunications, science and technology, culture and tourism.
Before visiting the steel mill, Xi went to a local park to lay a wreath at a monument to unknown heroes of Serbia. After that, he attended a luncheon hosted by the Serbian president and the prime minister.
The Chinese president left Serbia for Poland on Sunday afternoon. He will then travel to Uzbekistan, where he will attend a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.