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News 11 Sep 17

Serbian Media Ponder Agenda Behind China Envoy's Visit

As the Chinese President's special envoy visits Serbia, media reports suggest the real purpose of the visit is for China to ascertain how the EU views the development of Chinese investments and its growing influence in the region.

Maja Zivanovic
BIRN
Belgrade

Serbian Internal Minister, Nebojsa Stefanovic, and Chinese official, Meng Jianzhu, on Monday. Photo: Beta/MUP Srbije

The Chinese President's Special Envoy and Secretary of the Central Commission for Political and Legal Affairs, Meng Jianzhu, met Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic in Belgrade on Monday, amid media reports that Beijing's main interest is to see how EU views China's growing influence in the Balkans.

"This will be an opportunity to discuss how to improve the state of security and how to improve cooperation between your country and Serbia," Stefanovic said at the welcome ceremony at Belgrade airport on Sunday evening.

Stefanovic and Meng laid wreaths at a memorial erected in Belgrade as a sign of gratitude to China and in memory of those Chinese citizens killed during the NATO bombing of Belgrade in 1999, which hit the Chinese embassy.

President Aleksandar Vucic's office announced that Vucic will meet Meng Jianzhu on Tuesday.

The daily Vecernje Novosti meanwhile reported that Meng is interested chiefly in Belgrade's view of how the EU sees the development of Chinese investments in Serbia, and China's growing influence in the region generally.

Chinese President Xi Jinping in June 2016 pledged that Beijing would make major infrastructure investments in Serbia, so that it could a become transport corridor for Chinese goods in so called “New Silk Road” to West Europe markets.

In 2016, the Chinese company Hesteel Group took over the Serbian Steel Factory, which had experienced great financial problems.

According to the New York Times, China’s ambitions in the Balkans have set up a “potential clash with the EU’s plans”.

The report on September 9 cited a statement from Michal Makocki, an expert in Europe-China relations.

"Chinese economic corridors and infrastructure projects replicate China’s preference for state-led rather than market-based decisions, with the politicisation of investment, subsidy, and contract decisions, rejecting the EU’s model of open and transparent bidding procedures," he said.

"Perhaps most importantly, these projects saddle the target countries with enormous debts owed to China," he wrote in a policy paper for the European Council on Foreign Relations. 

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