Serbian President Bullish On Belt, Road Initiative

- Aug 08, 2018-

China's Belt and Road Initiative can help strengthen ties among countries along the overland and maritime routes, and Serbia will be a beneficiary, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday.

From the very beginning, the country saw the Belt and Road Initiative as a peaceful plan linking different cultures, Vucic said during an interview.

"Serbian people are very happy to be a part of that great project, and we'll really benefit a lot," he said, adding that Serbia has launched several related projects that greatly helped it to revive its economy, and improve living standards for Serbians.

Serbian steel mill Zelezara Smederevo, which was acquired by HBIS Group Co Ltd - one of China's largest ferrous players - salvaged at least 5,000 jobs in the Balkan nation, he said.

After the acquisition, HBIS Group Serbia Iron & Steel Belgrade produced 1.4 million metric tons of steel in 2017, with profit hitting a record high of 200 million yuan ($29 million). The mill became Serbia's second-largest exporter, according to HBIS.

Serbia expects to see the Belt and Road Initiative gaining momentum, which is good not only for Serbia and China, but for the entire world, Vucic said.

To achieve that goal, Serbia will do its best to remain a partner of China on initiative-related projects and to improve cooperation between the two countries, he said.

Serbia's first-half GDP growth stood at 4.6 percent, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe. This is partly related to Serbia's cooperation with China, in addition to its reforms and efforts to create a better business environment, he said.

"We see huge benefits from our cooperation with China," he said, adding that hopefully, China can also see benefits from cooperating with Serbia.

Speaking of the strategic partnership between the two countries, he said they have recently begun cooperating in steel production. "We are very proud of our strategic partnership," Vucic said.

He suggested that Serbia and China would benefit from boosting bilateral cooperation in other spheres, including sports, culture and tourism.

To help bring more Chinese visitors to Serbia, he said a visa-free policy will expedite matters.

Serbia's agreement on mutual visa exemption with China took effect in January of last year, allowing Chinese passport holders visa-free entry into Serbia for stays of up to 30 days.

In the first half of this year, the number of Chinese tourists to Serbia received by Glob Metropoliten Tours increased by 97 percent year-on-year, said general manager Mirjana Ljubinkovic.

The company arranged a wedding for Zhang Dan, a 39-year-old teacher at Jiangxi Normal University, and Wan Wenjing, a 32-year-old teacher at an art school in Jiangxi province, in Belgrade on Monday. Twenty-two relatives and friends flew from China to attend their nuptials and took part in a 10-day tour in Serbia and Montenegro.

"We looked at many European countries and chose Serbia because the visa-free regime made it very convenient for friends and relatives to attend our wedding. We hope that more countries will offer a visa waiver program for Chinese travelers," Zhang said.

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