China’s president appears to be like to spice up relations with Serbia go to – Information – Ionia Sentinel – Commonplace-Ionia, MI

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) “Chinese President Xi Jinping is coming to Serbia this week to further strengthen ties with the friendly nation and to reaffirm China’s intention to radically increase its presence in the Balkans and Europe.

The first visit by a Chinese president in more than 30 years, Xi’s trip to Belgrade, was hailed as “historic” here. During his three-day stay starting Friday, Xi will hold meetings with top officials and visit a Serbian steel mill that was bought by a Chinese company.

The visit is “an important milestone in strengthening the traditional friendship between China and Serbia, deepening mutual political trust and promoting practical cooperation between the two countries,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Xinghai in Beijing.

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said around twenty economic and other agreements will be signed during Xi’s stay. “It’s a big event for us,” said Vucic.

From Serbia, Xi will travel to Poland, where he will sign finance, aviation, science and education contracts. Xi will end the tour in Uzbekistan, where he will attend a Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit on the fight against terrorism and crime.

China has looked for opportunities to deepen relations with the region “In recent years several meetings between Southeastern European countries and China have been held and accompanied by investment projects” and to strengthen relations with the EU.

The Asian economic powerhouse is interested in energy, infrastructure and other large projects to boost its economy at a time when domestic labor costs are rising, undermining its exports and traditional economic strength. Chinese investors have hoped to increase their presence in the region where Western companies may be reluctant to take too much financial risk.

In Serbia, China has built a bridge over the Danube in Belgrade, revitalized a power station and agreed to help modernize the rail link between the Hungarian capital Budapest and Belgrade. Some local financial experts have complained that the infrastructure projects were funded by Chinese loans and built with Chinese labor without actually investing much money in the local economy.

In April, China’s Hebei Iron and Steel Group signed a € 46 million ($ 52 million) agreement to purchase the loss-making Zelezara Smederevo near Belgrade, previously owned by Pittsburgh-based US Steel and long-struggling to find a buyer.

The agreement was closely monitored by the EU. “Serbia is a candidate country for EU membership” amid concerns about overcapacity in the steel sector, which European steelmakers attribute in part to a flood of cheap Chinese steel.

Foreign policy expert Aleksandra Joksimovic said that China wants to “strategically position itself vis-à-vis Europe in terms of the economy” by investing in infrastructure and other projects in Southeastern Europe.

“China’s interest in Europe has grown significantly in recent years,” said Joksimovic. “The EU has nothing against Serbia’s cooperation (with China), as it is also looking for common interests with China in the economic field.”

The Chinese assistant FM Liu noted that Serbia is geographically well positioned and borders on seven countries. Serbia is pushing for re-industrialization while Chinese companies have the technology and experience to create a win-win future, Liu said.

Liu praised Serbia’s role in building cooperation between China and countries in Southeast Europe and supported China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative, “a comprehensive plan to deepen trade ties with neighboring countries and open up new markets.

Serbia is eager for foreign investment and has been struggling economically since the wars of the 1990s when the country was under international isolation because of its war policy. Belgrade has made accession to the EU its strategic objective, but has also tried to maintain close ties with both its traditional ally Russia and China.

China’s HBIS Group has committed to invest several million euros in the Zelezara Smederevo plant, which employs around 5,000 people. US Steel ran the company from 2002 to 2012 before it was resold to the Serbian state for a symbolic price of USD 1 due to losses.

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Associate press writer Louise Watt contributed to this report from Beijing.

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