Serbia strengthens ties with China as President Xi Jinping urges closer relations with Europe at summit
Updated 03:13, 10-Feb-2021
Aljosa Milenkovic in Belgrade


China's President Xi Jinping urged the leaders of 17 Central and Eastern European Countries to increase their ties with Beijing, at the 9th China-CEEC summit.

Xi was speaking, via video link on Tuesday. Established in 2012, the summit aims to stimulate the trade and cultural exchange between nations. Although this year's focus was more on collaboration in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Serbia, one of the countries participating, has already long-standing ties to China, which have only deepened through the pandemic.



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Despite the economic turmoil the pandemic has caused, mutual trade between China and 17 countries of Central and Eastern Europe increased in 2020 by 8.4 percent. According to China's Ministry of Commerce, the amount totaled more than $103 billion for the first time on record.

One of the reasons cited for this boost was cooperation among countries on tackling the coronavirus. Serbia is an example of that cooperation. Following support from China, which sent experts and protective equipment to the country in the pandemic's early months, Serbia was the first European recipient of China's Sinopharm vaccine.

As much of Europe is struggling to roll out vaccinations, Serbia has within days inoculated half a million people of a population of just under 7 million. A new shipment of an additional half a million vaccines is due to arrive at Belgrade airport in the next few days.

"The largest quantities of the vaccines are arriving from China, and I'm immensely grateful to President Xi Jinping, Ambassador Chen Bo, and Foreign Minister Wang Yi," said Aleksandar Vucic, the President of Serbia.

By importing the Sinopharm shot, as well as the Russian Sputnik V jab and the U.S.-Germany-developed Pfizer vaccine, Serbia is the only country to offer its citizens a free choice of which dose they wish to take.

At one of the Belgrade's vaccination centers, pensioner Bogoljub Mitrovic, spoke about why he chose the Sinopharm jab: "I've chosen the Chinese vaccine. I trust it the most because I can see that in China they are doing it right, as they don't have the epidemic anymore."

Zoran Bekic, the head of the vaccination point at Belgrade Fair, explained why many are opting for the Chinese vaccine. "The Sinopharm vaccine was the safest so far here. We didn't have a single side effect."

As the vaccination distribution grows, Belgrade and Beijing are hoping the ties they formed during the pandemic can endure long after the coronavirus crisis is relegated to history.

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