Vucic: The Serbia-China friendship bridge

Serbia recently began its accession talks with the EU and is firmly dedicated to its European path. This is a blessing to a country like Serbia, since its geographic position places us at a key strategic juncture between Europe and the Orient – and this role is becoming ever more prominent.

The first character in the Chinese words for Serbia and Serbian is pronounced sai. It translates as ‘place of strategic importance’. As Chinese characters so often do, it offers a remarkably concise and meaningful description of Serbia’s relationship with China and the world more broadly.

On December 16, Serbia will welcome Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and representatives of 16 central and eastern European countries for the third China-Balkans Summit. Belgrade has not hosted an event of this magnitude for 40 years and this summit is clear evidence of the Serbia-China relationship entering a new era.

We have enjoyed an increasingly warm relationship with China in recent years – one that is destined to become even stronger. When we met in Tianjin this year at the ‘Summer Davos’, Premier Li Keqiang and I spoke of our desire to boost the level of China-Serbia relations and cooperation. I look forward to continuing this conversation as we welcome him to Belgrade.

This political goodwill and mutual interest is underpinned by an increasingly strong economic partnership.

We are fortunate in our strategic location and this, coupled with growing political and economic links with the wider world, means that we are well placed to become the gateway between east and west. China is no longer a developing country but rather a modern superpower with a central role in the global economy. Far from being the world’s low-cost manufacturing base, its economic future lies in the areas of technology and brand development.

China is expanding its investment footprint across different countries and sectors and is looking increasingly to south-eastern Europe and the Balkans. With our proximity to EU markets, lower operating costs and support for foreign direct investment, I believe that it is a more attractive destination for Chinese firms than ever.

We have already seen a real appetite from Chinese investors for opportunities in Serbian infrastructure. A clear illustration of this is the new bridge across the Danube opening this month built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation, which involved an investment of $260m. This is far from the only example of a successful Sino-Serbian venture.

Serbia, traditionally strong in technology and engineering, is ideally placed to support China as it looks to re-position its economy through investment in technology and innovation and to engage with international research and development networks.

We have a strong track record of excellence in maths and science education, which adds to our skills base. Furthermore, as the global economy suffers from an increasing shortage of IT and engineering talent, Serbia offers foreign investors a range of financial incentives including tax holidays for major investment projects, grants and the ability to import equipment tariff-free.

Some of the biggest global names are already taking notice: Microsoft has chosen Belgrade as the home of one of its leading research and development centres in Europe to capitalise on the quality of talent available, while benefiting from far lower overheads than in the US. Siemens is another world leader in technology which has chosen to invest in Serbia.

Our talent and skills base are just as attractive to Chinese tech giants and, and the China National Electric Engineering Company has already announced plans to invest $1.2bn in Serbia.

Hosting the China-Balkans summit this week affirms our developing regional cooperation. It gives extra-importance to our vigour in pursuing our European path. We will use all these strengthened regional and international ties to reform our economy, create more jobs, raise the living standards of our people, and give them hope that the future is something they can look forward to.