News 18 Oct 16

Serbia Eyes Benefits of Scrapping Visas with China

The proposed abolition of visas between Serbia and China would provide a major boost to the Serbian economy and to tourism if it passed, experts agree.

Milivoje Pantovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic (on the left), China's President Xi Jinping (in the center) and Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic (on the right). Photo: Beta

Serbia's proposal that China and Serbia abolish visas between the two countries could lead to a boom in tourism to Serbia, former Serbian ambassador to China Slobodan Unkovic said.

“If this proposal passes, combined with the proposal to open Belgrade-Beijing flights and a Belgrade-Shanghai link, it could lead to the major boost in Serbian tourism,” Unkovic told BIRN.

He said the plan would be especially important for tourism since the Chinese spent over 180 billion US dollars on traveling abroad this year.

Serbia announced on Sunday that it would suggest the abolition of visas for stays under 30 days. Attending the Serbian government session, Chinese Ambassador Li Manchang said he was convinced that the government in Beijing would agree to the proposal.

“This plan is in accordance with the continuity of the good relationship between Serbia and China and with the documents signed during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in mid-June,” said Unkovic.

During the three-day June visit of the Chinese delegation to Serbia, led by President Jinping, the two countries signed 22 agreements on business relations designed to boost Serbia’s weak economy.

Nikola Jovanovic, of the Belgrade-based Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development, CIRSD, said that if the proposal is accepted, it could boost commercial exchanges as well as tourism.

“Serbia could become an important junction for China’s investments in Southeast Europe. Potentially, this is good news for Serbia but we have to see if Serbia fits into China’s global investment project,” he told BIRN.

Jovanovic said he hoped the planned abolition of visas would be realized, as it would be another milestone in the developing relationship between two countries.

“This would be the continuation of the policy between Serbia and China that started in 2009 with the signing of the Agreement on the Strategic Collaboration,” he said.

He recalled that China was eager to invest in the port of Thessaloniki in Greece, from which its goods could travel via Serbia to the rest of the Europe.

The "New Silk Road," officially known as the "One Belt, One Road", project, is a key part of China’s foreign policy. It aims to give Beijing greater international influence and expand its trade opportunities by reviving the ancient Silk Road as a modern transport, trade and economic corridor from Shanghai to Berlin.

The 13,000-kilometre route from China via Russia, Belarus, and Poland would create an economic zone and implies the construction of high-speed railways, roads, energy hubs and a fiber optic cable network.

The route is part of China’s 16+1 initiative, launched in 2012. The initiative seeks to improve trade and economic ties with 16 countries in Central and Eastern Europe: Albania, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The Tourist Organization of Serbia, TOS, has high expectations of the abolition of  visas with China, marketing manager Aneta Uskokovic said.

She told BIRN that tourist numbers from China are rising fast and almost doubled in the last four years.

“If Serbia became the first country in Europe to mutually abolish visas with China, it will be a major boost to tourism from that country. We have been active in that market since 2012 and have seen a constant rise in visits,” she said.

A breakthrough project between Serbia and China was the construction in 2010 of a bridge near the capital, Belgrade. This was soon followed by the first phase of renovations at the thermal power plant in the northeastern town of Kostolac.

Serbia also sold its steel mill in Smederevo to China’s HeSteel in April 2016.

However, some experts warn that some of the business deals signed with China could have negative consequences for the Serbian environment and for its EU negotiations.

 

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