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Serbia Seeks China’s Assistance Amid EU Pressure on Belgrade - Serbia Business

Serbia Seeks China’s Assistance Amid EU Pressure on Belgrade

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With Serbs increasingly skeptical about the benefits of joining the EU and NATO, Belgrade is seeking closer ties with China. Beijing, for its part, needs a strong Serbia as a gateway to Europe for its Silk Road project, experts told Sputnik ahead of Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic’s visit to China.

During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Belgrade in June 2016, the two countries signed a raft of economic cooperation deals, and experts believe that more such accords could be inked during the Serbian president’s current visit to Beijing.

“China is encouraging the integration processes going on in the world as it tries to strengthen its foothold in Eurasia, and even small and financially insignificant countries like Serbia are seen by Beijing as a potential element of its Great Silk Road economic project,” Alexander Larin, an expert at the Institute of the Far East in Moscow, told Sputnik China.

In 2015, China and Serbia signed a memorandum on the joint construction of an overland and maritime Silk Road, and President Nikolic is expected to reaffirm Belgrade’s decision to join the ambitious project.

“Serbia is China’s first strategic partner in Central and Eastern Europe and the centerpiece of Beijing’s infrastructural investments in the region,” Larin added.

Meanwhile, President Xi’s ambitious plan for infrastructural modernization in the very heart of Europe as part of the New Silk Road project is hitting a snag.

The much-anticipated Belgrade to Budapest high-speed railway is being probed by Brussels for potential infringements of the European Union’s requirement that public tenders are offered for such major infrastructure projects.

In 2013, China, Serbia and Hungary signed an agreement to build a 350 kilometer high-speed rail line that would go from Belgrade to Budapest, the first stage of a project that would ultimately connect the China-run Piraeus port in Greece with the heart of Europe.

The EU probe is mainly directed at Hungary, which is a full-fledged EU member, rather than Serbia, whose “prospective member” status shields it from all of the EU’s regulations, Forbes wrote.

Georgy Engelgard, an expert at the Institute of Slavic Studies in Moscow, believes that the issue will be discussed during the Beijing talks.

“Chinese investments play a significant role in the economic life of Serbia and the other Balkan states. Brussels is making every effort to check China’s economic expansion and is bringing strong pressure to bear on Belgrade,” Engelgard told Sputnik China.

He added that China is viewed through the increasingly anti-US and anti-NATO Serbian perspective as a powerful friend and a kind of a counterbalance to EU domination.

In an interview with Sputnik, Ren Yuanzhe, an expert with the Diplomatic Academy of China, described Serbia as a driving force behind China’s current effort to bolster economic and political ties with Central and Eastern European countries.

“The countries of Central and Eastern Europe are seen by China as important cooperation partners both in the 16+1 format and as part of the ‘one Belt, one road’ concept. The two countries have no political, economic and security problems and China fully shares Belgrade’s position on Kosovo and other issues,” Ren said.

He added that President Nikolic’s current visit to China would give an additional boost to the economic cooperation agreements signed during President Xi Jinping’s visit to Belgrade in 2016.

“It will  expand our strategic partnership as part of the 16+1 and the “one belt, one road” initiatives and set the stage for more mutually-beneficial cooperation between China and the Central and Eastern European countries,” Ren Yuanzhe emphasized.