With the Covid19 crisis, relations between China and Serbia have tightened. Billboards thanking the Chinese president could be seen in Belgrade, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic kissed the Chinese flag in gratitude.
China and Serbia maintain good relations. The two countries signed a strategic partnership in 2009, and Beijing is supporting Belgrade on the Kosovo issue. China is Serbia’s third largest trading partner for imports.
Since 2017, the two countries have removed visa requirements to boost tourism, and since then, Serbia has become an attractive destination for Chinese visitors.
This Balkan state has also become a key location for the development of the Belt and Road initiative in Europe. China is building the Budapest-Belgrade line, which could be continued to Athens and the port of Piraeus, allowing easier access from the Mediterranean to the center of the European continent.
In 2019, Chinese investment in Serbia reached almost 8 billion euros, making Serbia one of the main destinations in Central Europe. Belgrade has also taken out loans from Chinese banks to finance its infrastructure and thus facilitate its European integration.
Chinese aid to Serbia against covid19
In late March 2020, China sent medical equipment (masks, tests, coveralls) to Serbia to assist local authorities in their fight against covid19, which thus prevented the spread of the epidemic. Chinese experts have also advised their Serbian colleagues on the measures to be taken to combat the covid19, particularly with regard to new hospital services.
Although passenger flights between Serbia and China today have been suspended, Air Serbia continue to carry medical equipment from China to Serbia.
What about the European Union?
This Chinese support was seen as a criticism of the European Union. Although few European Union member countries were able to send medical equipment to Serbia, -in particular because this equipment was in limited supply in most European countries-, the EU financed Serbia-China flight to deliver masks and respirators. A special fund has also been granted to Belgrade. Italian companies have also donated equipment to Serbia to fight Covid19.
China is not looking for breaking the strong relationship between Serbia, an EU candidate and European partners. Both China and the European Union need stability and rock-solid partnership. China, with the experience gained in Wuhan, has simply helped a European state, as it has done with other countries.
Serbia can become a major interlocutor in the Sino-European dialogue if the country continues to move closer to the European Union while strengthening its relations with China.