Xi Jinping is the first Chinese president to visit Serbia in over 30 years. Chinese ambassador to Serbia, Li Manchang, said the Sino-Serbian relationship has stood the test of time.
Situated in the middle of Central and Southeast Europe, the Republic of Serbia is commonly know as the crossroads of Europe. This title underlies its strategic geopolitical importance, as the central Balkan state connects Europe, Asia, Middle East, and Africa.
The friendship between China and Serbia dates back to the era of Yugoslavia. One of the high points in China-Serbia relations came in September last year, when Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic brought a column of soldiers to attend China's landmark parade marking the 70th anniversary of the World Anti-Fascist War victory.
Chinese ambassador to Serbia, Li Manchang, who studied in Serbia over 30 years ago, said the country is a shining star in China's relations with CEE countries.
"In 2009, Serbia became the first CEE country to establish a strategic partnership with China," Li Manchang said.
Over the years, the cooperation between China and Serbia has achieved a lot in a range of areas, from politics to the economy, to culture. These achievements came both at government level and by the public.
"Cooperation between our two countries is moving forward smoothly, because both sides respect each other's core interests. The strategic friendship between China and Serbia is genuine and well-rounded," Li Manchang said.
Similar historical background and diplomatic environments have pushed the two countries closer, nurturing mutual understanding and political trust. Serbia has become a pivotal part of China's "Belt and Road Initiative", and the center of the "16+1 mechanism". This was established between China and Central and Eastern European countries to serve as an engine for CEE countries to vitalize their economies and achieve recovery.
"Within the 16+1 framework, Serbia is indeed a bellwether, a frontrunner in project diversity and numbers," Li Manchang said.
Cooperation in infrastructure has been especially eye-catching. Chinese companies have built bridges in Belgrade, railway lines between Belgrade and Budapest, and re-modelled a steel factory for Serbia. The country has become a window showcasing China's infrastructure projects in Europe.
"The bridge in Belgrade across the Danube was the first Chinese-built bridge in Europe. And the railway between Belgrade and Budapest was the first cross-continental railway we built to Europe. So a lot of the firsts were achieved in Serbia. And now, we are transforming and upgrading our model of cooperation," Li Manchang said.
Historically, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was the first socialist country to carry out a reform and open up policy. It also had the most complete market mechanism and a flourishing economy. China learnt a great deal from this when implementing its own reform and open up policy. And now, with Chinese investment in Serbia reaching nearly 3 billion US dollars, and through taking advantage of complementary industries, China and Serbia are both gaining the fruits of their work together.
"Serbia is now reviving its industrial sectors. And there are still over 5-hundred thousand hectares of land lying in waste without proper irrigation, despite the fact that Serbia is rich in black soil. China can be of great help in funding these areas," Li Manchang said.