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BELGRADE: Serbia welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping with a military guard of honour on Wednesday ahead of a meeting with his Serbian counterpart to discuss China´s multi-billion euro investment in the Balkan country and possible new deals.

Xi´s visit coincides with the 25th anniversary of NATO’s accidental bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade and is part of his first European tour in five years, which included France with Hungary the next stop.

“We are writing history today,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told an audience of several thousands gathered in front of the Serbian presidential palace, applauding and chanting “China, China”.

Both leaders boast of an ironclad partnership between their countries. Along with Hungary, which is Xi´s next stop, Serbia is Europe’s firmest supporter of China’s huge Belt and Road infrastructure project across parts of Asia and Europe.

Xi said that he was moved by the warm welcome and that he expected his visit to “open a new chapter” in relations between the two countries.

“Serbia has become China´s first strategic partner in central and eastern Europe,” Xi said, referring to a 2016 deal on a strategic partnership between the two countries.

Vucic said that Serbia considers the island of Taiwan, viewed by Beijing as a breakaway province, to be part of China, just as China considers Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, as part of Serbia.

Serbian Finance Minister Sinisa Mali told state television on Tuesday that two leaders would sign more than 29 agreements and some commercial contracts.

He said that high-technology projects will be discussed.

Macron hosts Xi in French mountains to talk Ukraine, trade

“Serbia does not have a visa regime with China,” Mali told state TV RTS.

“Thus we are totally open to their investments,” he said, adding that the Western countries impose barriers and quotas on Chinese investment and produce.

Observers say Xi’s choice of Serbia and Hungary is designed to pull closer two European countries that are pro-Russia and large recipients of Chinese investment. Serbia’s Western partners view the country as a Chinese hub at the gateway to the EU.

During his visit to France, President Emmanuel Macron and EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen pressed Xi to ensure more balanced trade with Europe and to use his influence on Russia to end the war in Ukraine, but to no avail, according to analysts.

Symbolism of the visit

Xi´s visit comes on the anniversary of the NATO bombing of the Chinese Embassy during a campaign against the former Yugoslavia to force late Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic to end a crackdown on ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

The bombing, which killed three Chinese journalists and wounded 20 Chinese nationals, prompted outrage in China and an apology from then US President Bill Clinton.

“The Chinese people appreciate the peace but will never allow that a historic tragedy repeats itself,” Xi said in an opinion article in the daily Politika on Tuesday.

Last year, Vucic signed a free trade deal with Xi that should become operational in July, opening the door to the vast Chinese market for Serbian companies.

“The free trade agreement will bring security to our farmers,” Vucic said during his welcome speech.

China’s Xi praises French ties as Macron prepares to talk trade

China owns mines and factories across Serbia and has lent billions for roads, bridges and new facilities, becoming Serbia’s key partner in much-needed infrastructure development.

In 2023, China was Serbia’s second-largest trading partner after the EU with a total trade exchange of $6.1 billion and among its top five investors, according to the national investment agency.

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