China’s Xi Jinping arrives in Serbia on anniversary of Belgrade embassy bombing

By bne IntelliNews May 7, 2024

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Serbia on the evening of May 7, a symbolic date that is the 25th anniversary of the accidental Nato bombing of China's embassy in Belgrade. 

Xi is visiting Serbia as one of three stops on a tour of Europe, between his visits to France and Hungary. The two East European countries on his tour have both emerged as important allies of China in the region, and have benefited from inflows of Chinese investment. 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic personally welcomed Xi at Belgrade airport, alongside members of the government. 

“With this visit, you have done a great honour to our country and people, who sincerely love China and value the friendship of your great country,” the Serbian president said told his Chinese counterpart, according to a post on his Instagram page. 

"Long live the steel friendship of Serbia and China, which was tempered in difficult times and which we will continue to preserve through mutual respect, understanding and firm support," added Vucic.

Xi commented on the “deep traditional friendship” between the two countries. 

"Our bilateral relations have withstood the test of the changing international environment and become a fine example of interstate relations. Since the establishment of a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2016, bilateral relations have achieved historic results,” he said, according to a statement from the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. 

Embassy bombing 

Earlier in the day, Xi referred to the 1999 embassy bombing in an opinion piece published in the daily Politika, writing of the importance of peace as well as China's resolve to prevent such tragedies from recurring.

The bombing, during a campaign against Yugoslavia, resulted in the deaths of three Chinese journalists and injuries to twenty Chinese nationals. Then-US president Bill Clinton issued an apology in the aftermath of the incident, which sparked outrage in China.

In the comment piece, Xi also highlighted the enduring friendship between China and Serbia, forged through shared experiences and joint efforts. 

"The friendship between China and Serbia which is soaked in blood that the two peoples spilled together has become a joint memory of the two peoples and will encourage both parties to make together huge steps forward,” he wrote. 

Warm welcome 

Belgrade has been prepared to receive Xi with streets adorned with Chinese flags and placards, while thousands of police officers have been deployed to ensure security for the visiting delegation. 

Ahead of Xi's arrival, several members of the Chinese delegation, including ministers and institutional representatives, have already arrived in Belgrade. Minister of Finance Sinisa Mali and Minister of Trade Tomislav Momirovic, greeted the Chinese delegation at Nikola Tesla airport.

During his stay in Serbia, Xi is expected to engage in talks on China's investments in the country and potential new agreements with his Serbian counterpart Vucic.

The relationship between China and Serbia has seen several advances in recent years. In 2016, the two countries signed a strategic partnership, and last year witnessed the signing of 18 agreements during Vucic's visit to Beijing. These agreements included a free trade deal set to become operational in July, reflecting the deepening economic ties between the two nations.

Xi said he expected discussions with Serbian leaders to further strengthen bilateral cooperation. 

Trade and infrastructure 

Serbia's alignment with China's Belt and Road Initiative has cemented its position as a key partner for China in Europe. Chinese investments in Serbia have contributed significantly to infrastructure development, with projects spanning mines, factories, roads and bridges. 

China is currently Serbia's second most important economic partner following the EU. China was also the top foreign investor in Serbia in 2023, accounting for €1.37bn of the total €4.5bn. 

Chinese companies have played an important role in Serbia's industrial sector, and are among the country’s top exporters. Specifically, Serbia’s top exporters were dominated by three Chinese-owned companies in 2023: Zijin Mining, Zijin Copper and the HBIS Group.

Other recent collaborations include the establishment of yuan clearing arrangements and the inauguration of a new freight route linking China's Hebei province with Belgrade.

Xi's visit coincides with the installation of Serbia's new government, led by former defence minister Milos Vucevic.