Following the same pattern applied in Asia and Africa, China is now seeking to expand its influence in the Balkans and eastern Europe by co-operating on major infrastructure and energy projects.
Serbia is to be the site for China's first multi-million euro infrastructure project on the European continent after Belgrade and Beijing signed a preliminary contract to build a much needed bridge over the Danube in the capital.
With these investments and through a strategic partnership – signed last August when Serbian President Boris Tadic went to China – Serbia hopes to become China's gateway to the Balkans and Europe. "The interest coincides in the fact that Serbia, with its specific geostrategic position and geographic location, is an ideal place for China to spread [business] from here to the [Balkans] region and Europe," said Olivera Kiro of the Serbian Chamber of Commerce. "As a part of China's 'go global' strategy, Europe has an important place and in that sense Serbia is a good choice" to start with, Kiro said.
Serbia, the largest country in the western Balkans, has free-trade agreements with the European Union, Russia, Belarus, Turkey, as well as with members of the European Free Trade Association.
"Many Chinese enterprises are interested in coming here," Ren Yi, Economic and Commercial Counsellor of China's embassy in Belgrade, said.
In October Serbia signed a preliminary contract with the China Road and Bridge Corporation for a €170 million (Dh851.44m, $232m) bridge over the Danube and construction is due to start in the second half of the year.
Most of the money needed to finance the project would come from the Chinese Exim bank through a preferential buyer's loan. Negotiations are ongoing and Ren said he expected them to be concluded by the end of the month.
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