|Activities - Comments|
Zivadin Jovanovic, Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals
Silk Road Connectivity Research Center
Approaching Silk Road Summit in Beijing
- Interview to Xinhua News Agency -
China is going to hold Belt and Road summit in May 2017, a great number of state heads and government officials are announced to attend.
1. Concerning Sino-Serbian cooperation under the Belt and Road Initiative, what are the limiting factors (or bottleneck)? What are the challenges?
ZJ: First of all, it should be noted that cooperation between Serbia and China under the Belt and Road Initiative is an excellent and inspiring example of great achievements of win win cooperation. First Chinese-built and financed Bridge in Europe was constructed in Serbia, over Danube River, in Belgrade; first Chinese steel factory in Europe operates in Serbia employing over 5.000 workers, in the City of Smederevo; first Chinese built and financed thermo power plant in Europe, Kostolac “B” (350MW), is being constructed in Serbia; first Bank of China`s branch in South East Europe has been opened last month in Belgrade; Serbia is the first European country which has abolished visa for visitors from China as of January this year. Chinese companies have been engaged in many other infrastructure projects thus strengthening connectivity potentials of Serbia as a crossroad of European and transcontinental highways, railways, air-ways and inland water ways. China has undertaken to construct modern Chinese Cultural Center in Belgrade.
The first and utmost challenge is to maintain and further enhance such a pace and scope of Serbian-Chinese cooperation within framework of Belt and Road Initiative. Considering strategic character of relations between the two countries, profound mutual trust and strong political will, I am convinced that this cooperation will continue to grow embracing new areas in infrastructure, industry, food production and others.
Historic state visit of the President Xi Djinping to Serbia in June 2016 has broadened perspectives and reinforced foundation for win win cooperation in 21st Century. Implementation of 17 very important agreements signed during that visit is strategically important medium term challenge.
Harmonizing development plans and economic policy measures wherever it is necessary for upgrading efficiency and facilitating cooperation under Belt and Road Initiative remains a continuous priority task.
Particular challenge has been so far and will remain in the future - coordination of plans and activities within group of China+16 CEEC out of which 11 are members of EU and remaining 5, including Serbia, member-candidates. Coordinating bodies and associations established by China+16CEEC Summits, as well as bilateral consultations among member countries, will certainly play crucial role in this regard.
2. What are your suggestions for bilateral cooperation in the future under the Belt and Road Initiative?
ZJ: We in the Belgrade Forum for a World of Equals and in Silk Road Connectivity Research Center (COREC) believe that modernization of infrastructure and people to people connectivity should remain top priority for future Serbia - China cooperation under OBOR Initiative.
High speeds railway Belgrade – Budapest (378km), which has been agreed upon, should be expanded to the south up to Athens, Greece (1.102km). It would be crossing several CEE countries providing the shortest connection between one of the largest Mediterranean ports, Piraeus, and Central and Northern Europe (Corridor E-10).
Chinese and Serbian companies have already been involved in construction of portions of the highway Belgrade –Bar, Adriatic Sea port, in Montenegro. Completing this highway and adding to it modernization of the railway, would not only provide rational access of several land locked CEEC to Mediterranean Sea, but would also rationalize transport of goods and economic cooperation with China, in general. Finally, it would be compatible with the project of “Three Seas” (Adriatic, Black and Baltic Seas).
The Belgrade Forum and COREC, being Serbian think tanks and members of Silk Road Think Tank Association (SRTA), have proposed development and modernization of the Danube River strategic transport corridor. Danube is the second longest river in Europe, next to Volga and far the shortest, low cost transport route between Black Sea and North Sea (Sulina – Rotterdam 3.500km). It flows through 10 CEE countries, 7 of which are EU members, while 9 others belong to the drainage basin. Danube`s length in Serbia is 588 km with seven ports. We believe that it is time to initiate exchange of views on the needs and conditions for development and modernization of Danube transport corridor and appropriate cooperation under OBOR Initiative. We believe also that it is compatible with EU Junker`s Strategic Investment Plan aimed at improving EU investments, growth, employment and infrastructure.
Positive experience with Chinese Hesteel Co. which has undertaken Smederevo Steel Factory in 2016 has encouraged in Serbia new similar ideas regarding some other big industries encountering serious production and technology problems. In this regard, it would be important if partners from China would consider entering strategic partnership, or other form of cooperation, with Bor Copper Mining and Industry. Generally, Serbia is trying very hard to recuperate and modernize industry which has been devastated during the transition period. This is perceived as the way to provide rising employment for young qualified people and expand export to achieve better trade balance.
3. The OBOR Summit is going to kick off on May 14th, what topics do you suggest that the summit should discuss? Or specifically, your ideas on how to have a fruitful summit.
ZJ: I believe that the forthcoming Belt and Road Summit in China will be the most important, constructive and productive international conference reflecting global changes and challenges in the world economy. It will demonstrate strong political will in favor of win win cooperation, innovative, inclusive and sustainable development, as well as in favor of peace and stability. Based on remarkable experiences and great achievements in Asia, Europe (China+16CEEC) and Africa, the Summit will certainly open new, even broader horizons for strengthening cooperation under Belt and Road Initiative, in the future. No doubt that the success of this global multidimensional Initiative is great contribution not only to the world economic recovery but also to new models of economic governance, easing of the problem of unemployment, socio-economic gaps, as well as promotion of peace and stability through sustainable economic development.
In the contemporary atmosphere of variety of uncertainties, crisis, conflicts, provocative moves and policy statements, the new Summit initiated by China`s President Xi Djinping will certainly send unique massage of reason, positive thinking and constructive acting. It will be the Summit of win win cooperation, partnership on equal footing and openness, certainly not of greed, protectionism and walls of any kind.
Physical and people to people connectivity should enjoy equally important support. Industrial parks have proved to be feasible equally for growing employment and sustainable development. Openness, equality and mutual respect, cooperation without any political precondition is what makes difference between Belt and Road Initiative cooperation and others.
We succeeded to know each other much better since the beginning of Belt and Road Initiative started, but there is need to intensify exchanges and cooperation in education, science, culture, think tanks, civic association, mass media, sports, tourism. Coordinating and harmonizing plans and programmers in all relevant areas remains high priority challenge.
4. Now EU is probing into the Budapest-Belgrade railway. Minister of Transport already gave her statement on this issue. How do you perceive this issue? Do you think the investigation will postpone the railway construction? Do you think the investigation issue will have a bad influence on Sino-Serbian Belt and Road cooperation in the future?
ZJ: During the last China+16CEEC Summit in Riga, Latvia, Serbian and Chinese partners have signed Commercial and Credit Agreements for construction of the Serbian portion of Belgrade – Budapest high speed railways. According to the newest public statements of highest Serbian Government representatives, the works on the construction of high speed railway will be officially launched this coming May by Prime ministers of China, Serbia and Hungary. Therefore, I do not see any reason for postponing works in Serbia. Hungary, being EU member, might need some time to iron-out possible misunderstandings with Brussels, if any. This however will not affect plan for opening the works in Serbia. I am optimist.
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