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19 December 2020

Address by President Tomislav Nikolić Nanjing Forum 19 December 2020

Dear friends and comrades,

I would like to take this opportunity to address you from Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, in my capacity as President of the National Council for Coordination of Cooperation with the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.

I also wish to emphasize that during my term-of-office as President of Serbia I had the honour and pleasure to forge a friendship with China’s President Xi Jinping, a friendship made of steel, as President Xi put it back in 2013 in Beijing, and one which we have relentlessly and meticulously fostered to this day, lest it ever be broken.

Therein probably lies the reason why Serbia is the only country hosting a National Council in charge of cooperation with the People’s Republic of China, composed of, apart from me at its helm, nine Government Ministers and a small group of handpicked reputable individuals with a proven track record of true friendship with the people of China.

During my presidency, President Xi Jinping paid an official visit to Serbia in 2016, reaffirming by virtue of his conduct and goones everything that we had put our signatures to in a common document on comprehensive strategic partnership between our two countries. Even back then several titanic projects in the areas of infrastructure, manufacturing and transport, to name a few, were in the pipeline, and we were well into brainstorming ideas concerning free trade and manufacturing areas and technology parks, among others.

Serbia was one of the first countries to endorse President Xi’s Belt and Road vision and to back the CEEC initiative, nowadays known as the “17+1” mechanism, which gathers together many EU Member States, former Yugoslav countries and the EU Candidate Countries. The eight summits held so far in seven European capitals and cities and one in China (Suzhou), speak volumes about the solid basis of this project. One of the prime ministerial meetings was held in Belgrade and hosted by the then Prime Minister and the incumbent President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić, while I had the opportunity, as the Head of State, to converse with China’s Premier Li Keqiang on a number of occasions. The meeting envisaged to take place last April in Beijing had to be postponed, understandably enough, due to vis maior, i.e. a contagious viral disease.

What I have sketched out so far points to the importance given today to the promotion of the overall Sino-Serbian relationship. A fact illustrative enough of the dynamic development of our cooperation is the hospitality that the National Council has bestowed on more than two hundred delegations from China over the past three years. It is important to note that the delegates included members of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau, state leadership, provincial governors, presidents of academies and CEOs chairing major companies, to name but a few. All the talks have been substantial and specifically aimed at the realization of common projects.

In this regard, I twice had the pleasure to welcome a delegation of Wan Li Think Tank, headed by its President Zhao Yue. We had fruitful talks, we organized visists for the delegates and arranged face-to-face meetings with the Serbian Government and company representatives interested in various forms of collaboration with companies in China. Therefore I hope that the Forum will advance both the business ties and other bonds between our two nations.

I would like to underline that a Chinese-owned steel mill (HBIS, Hebei Province), operates in full capacity in the City of Smederevo, and that the Mining and Smelting Combine Bor, a copper and gold producer, has moved to the hands of China’s famous Fujian-based Zijin, which now has majority ownership of this giant. Apart from building roads and important facilities, Chinese companies are also active in the energy sector, and our technological cooperation is growing day by day. Huawei has long been active in Serbia, as well as ZTE. According to estimates, more than 10 000 Chinese nationals are currently residing in Serbia, and they are mostly involved in trade, hospitality and tourism; we have also witnessed successful work of traditional Chinese medicine experts.

When we first faced COVID-19 earlier this year, China and Russia were the first to lend a helping hand. We will never forget this. Chinese doctors have put their own lives on the line and provided expertise as the pandemic spiralled.

We are also looking forward to a closer cooperation in order to forestall the fatal coronavirus disease. I am hereby referring to the Chinese vaccine and its availability in Serbia.

I believe that the unfolding trials and tribulations faced by nations and economies worldwide will be overcome next year. I also believe that China, together with the signatories of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, a vital trade agreement entered into between the Asia-Pacific countries, will be the pillar of global economic renewal and development. It is therefore important to maintain the growing links between China and Europe, via Serbia, China’s reliable friend.

In addition to wishes for a fruitful and successful work at the Forum, please accept my warmest and friendliest greetings from Belgrade.