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Xi concludes Serbia visit with elevated ties, emotional moments

Xinhua | May 9, 2024


Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in Belgrade for a state visit to Serbia at the invitation of Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, May 7, 2024. (Xinhua/Huang Jingwen)

Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up his state visit to Serbia on Wednesday, bundling up a multitude of deals and a strengthened bond of friendship with the country.

At the end of a fully-packed day, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic bid farewell to Xi at the Belgrade Nikola Tesla Airport, where he had welcomed the Chinese president the day before.

Earlier in the day, Xi and Vucic signed a joint statement on the building of a China-Serbia community with a shared future in the new era, an upgrade of relations from the comprehensive strategic partnership established in 2016.

The deal makes Serbia the first European country to build such a community with China. Countries like Laos, Pakistan and Thailand have also endorsed a high-level engagement of the kind with China.

"With this agreement, Serbia is leading the way in its relations with China," said Ivona Ladjevac, deputy director at the Institute for International Politics and Economics in Belgrade.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic hold talks in Belgrade, Serbia, May 8, 2024. (Xinhua/Li Xueren)

Aleksandar Mitic, a research fellow also with the institute said this improvement of strategic cooperation should be viewed very positively. "It is not directed against anyone."

Serbia has long been known as "the gateway to the Balkans" on the European continent. "Everything that has been done so far and will be done in the future can serve as an example to other countries in the region and throughout Europe to get involved as much as possible," said Mitic. "The principle of mutual benefit can really work."

In support of the building of the China-Serbia community with a shared future in the new era, Xi has announced six measures when he met the press together with Vucic. Notable among the measures are a free trade agreement between China and Serbia which will take effect on July 1 and an exchange program under which Serbian youths and young Serbian scientists are invited to visit China in the next three years.

"The sky is the limit," said Vucic, referring to the scope of cooperation with China.

"For Serbia, it obviously brings a great deal," said Aleksandar Pavic, a Serbian political expert. "The opening of the Chinese market with the Free Trade Agreement, academic exchanges ... those are very, very important."

"China offers a hand of cooperation on an equal footing, and offers great opportunities without conditions," Pavic said. "We've grown weary of the zero-sum game for far too long."

The substantial deals added new testimony to the special bond of ironclad friendship enjoyed by China and Serbia.

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcome ceremony held by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, Serbia, May 8, 2024. (Xinhua/Ding Haitao)

Precious moments of goodwill and friendship are a signature of Xi's short but significant stay in Serbia, which lasts no more than 24 hours.

A telling moment was the grand welcoming ceremony held by Vucic on Wednesday morning with the impressive attendance of more than 10,000 Serbian people.

Crowds were waving the national flags of both countries and chanting "China! Serbia!" with applause and cheers pervading the atmosphere.

"We are here to show our friendship with China, and we want our Chinese friends know that we cherish it very much," said Milos Tosic, a college professor present at the event. Tosic told Xinhua that it is not only his opinion, but one shared "by all the people here today."

At a welcoming banquet around noon, Xi shared his nostalgic memory with Vucic, reminiscing about the Yugoslav film "The Bridge" and the song "Bella Ciao," which have become the fondest memories in his youthful days.

"China will work together with the friendly people of Serbia and make tireless efforts to build a China-Serbia community with a shared future in the new era," Xi pledged in his concluding remarks at the banquet toast, opening up a vista for the two countries.