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China implements trade agreement with Serbia as it expands influence in Europe

Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Copyright AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic
Copyright AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic
By Alessio Dell'Anna
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Electric vehicles will play a key role in China's strategy in the Balkans.

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China and Serbia have announced they are implementing a new free trade agreement at the beginning of July, deepening the economic and political ties between Belgrade and its biggest foreign investor.

The deal, which is part of a comprehensive Serbia-China partnership called "Shared Future", was announced in a joint press conference in Belgrade on Wednesday by Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Chinese president Xi Jinping, who is visiting Europe for the first time in five years.

Vučić said the deal "will guarantee a future" for Serbia, cancelling tariffs on almost 95% of the country's exports to China within the next five to ten years, from "apples to beef meat".

His Chinese counterpart described their relationship as "rock solid" and growing "from strength to strength".

The announcement comes at a moment of heightened political tension between Beijing and the EU, amid allegations that China embedded a spy in the office of a far-right German MEP

But it's also a slap in the face to Brussels, as the bloc considers raising duties on Chinese electric vehicles from its current 10% to protect its domestic market.

Electric cars are going to be at the heart of China's expansion strategy, but Victor Gao, Vice President of the Center for China and Globalization, told Euronews Serbia that the ties between the two countries stretch well beyond that.

"China and Serbia share everything together, we see the world very much through similar lenses and we fully understand the need to respect each other, helping each other whenever necessary," he said.

"And then, if Serbia can also become a very important manufacturing centre for EV cars, it will accelerate this transformation from fuel cars to EV cars."

Gao also hints that recognising the island of Taiwan as part of China is fundamental to laying the ground for any good economic relationship with Beijing.

"The message is simple: if you treat China as an equal, we can cooperate. If you don't treat China as an equal, if you really want to badmouth China, to disrespect China, and to violate the One China Policy, then you don't get all these economic benefits."

China also shares deep ties with another European conservative leader, Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán, whose government has been trying to attract major investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, energy and technology. 

Xi will head to Hungary later on Wednesday until Friday for the last leg of his European trip.

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