New Chinese SilkRoad: Serbia is important link and reasonable partner

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Serbia is the first country on the route 1B1R that initiated activities regardingcooperation on infrastructure with China.

– Serbia could have the important role in achieving the ambitious plan of the New Silk Road for encouraging trade between People’s Republic of China and Europe, Asia and Africa. Thanks to its position and advantages Serbia shall take an important place in the project One Belt, One Road–stated Xi Jinping,ChinesePresident during his visit to Serbia.

In 2013, President Xi Jinping presented the Initiative One Belt, One Road (1B1R), that establishes new trading connections in two manners, land-based and oceangoing. The fact is that wealthier social classes in the most populous country in the world are very interested in the import of goods, services and capital from more than 60 countries that are on the rout 1B1R. Beijing estimates that the initiative 1B1R is highly important for Serbia too. It is believed that this type of connection should help Serbia become more integrated in economic activities in Europe, which is a precondition for reducing the gap which separates it from more developed countries. Professor Wang Yiwei, Director of the Institute for International Issues of the Center for European Studies at Renmin University in Beijing, believes that due to transportation difficulties and lack of funds, the development of Balkan countries becomes questionable. “Chinese initiative 1B1R will help them get more involved in international division of labor. In addition, it shall encourage export and import and improve the life standard of citizens”, believes Wang. Beijing media point out that highest officials in Belgrade expressed Serbia’s readiness to play an active role in implementation of 1B1R initiative, in order to take advantage of the chance to use its development strategy in the best manner.

Analytics estimate that Serbia, as the candidate for European Union and active participant in cooperation between China and CIE countries is the reasonable partner in the New Silk Road. Official Belgrade and Beijing keep very close relations, and China is the most important economic partner of Serbia in Asia and one of the pillars of foreign politics of Serbia. In fact, since the membership of Serbia in the EU is not certain in the following seven to eight years, both due to the length of process of joining and challenges which the EU and Serbia are facing, the national interest of Belgrade to save and improve strategic partnership with China and implement all projects within 1B1R initiative on its territory is obvious. Chinese officials indicate that Serbia is the key partner and China’s best friend in the region.  “Relations and cooperation between two countries are currently on highest level from establishing diplomatic relations in 1955 and are being improved on daily bases”, stated Aleksandar Janković, Head of the Asia, Australia and Pacific Department at the Serbian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In thematic issue of the magazine of Belgrade Institute for International Politics and Economics (IIPE), dedicated to the New Silk Road, Janković wrote that Serbia became the leader among CIE countries in conducting joint infrastructure and energy projects with China. Therefore, it should not be a surprise that China and CIE countries supported Serbia’s efforts to establish association on transport and infrastructure cooperation between China and CIE in Belgrade that was documented and signed during Xi’s visit. Serbia is the first of the countries on 1B1Rthat initiated activities regarding infrastructure cooperation with China. Janković specifically emphasized the importance of construction of railway between Belgrade and Budapest- it is the joint project of Serbia, Hungary and China, i.e. establishment of the unique railway-transport customs clearance system by which the goods from China would be  transported from Piraeus Port to Central Europe and vice versa. “That land-sea express line as called in China, could contribute to implementation of transportation networks and also people and goods, which would encourage the construction of logistic routes and distribution centers and long term access to new markets”, stated Janković.

As assessed by Marko Nikolić, another author of IIPE magazine, investments and implementation of joint projects with China would improve economic growth of Serbia, especially its infrastructure and trading potentials.  “Country would definitely become more adequate and stable candidate for EU membership, which is its priority. With the railway between Budapest and Belgrade and customs agreement, Serbia would become transport and trading backbone of South-East Europe that would connect three continents through initiative 1B1R. On the other hand the China would have reliable partner in SEE, important support and short-term candidate for EU that offers connection and balanced contribution within strategic relations between China and EU. Even if Serbia remains candidate for EU or countrythat is not the member of EU in long term, China would have more space for economic cooperation with this country. It is obvious that in any case Serbia remains inevitable partner to China for this part of the world”, concluded Nikolić.

Two states have used the visit of President Xi to bring their relations to the level of comprehensive strategic partnership. It should also be repeated that during the visit of the Prime Minister of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić to China, in November 2015, two countries signed Memorandum of Understanding for joint promotion of the initiative 1B1R.

Unused Danube potential

Analytics in Belgrade agree that Chinese initiative 1B1R encouraged hopes that Serbia could soon obtain necessary investments in infrastructure, then strengthen energy safety and increase export. It is also pointed out that Beijing is interested to increase potential of Danube ports that could serve as free-trade zone and transit places for Chinese goods that would reach European markets by river. It should be repeated that the Danube is the longest river in EU and the second in Europe. It is the River Corridor 7, which reaches North and Baltic Sea via Black Sea and Rhine-Main Canal. Danube basin covers area of 10 countries- Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine. “Danube course through Serbia is 588 kilometers long and ourintentionis to increase the scope of turnover from 5.5 million of ton of goods per year to 8.5 million and the number of passengers from 74,000 to 174,000 until 2025. Cereals and minerals are mainly transported but chances are that the transport of dangerous goods will increase”, claims Dejan Trifunović, state secretary in the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure.