Closer partnership between China, Serbia, Hungary to bear more fruits, creating many shared benefits

The Hungarian section of the Hungary-Serbia railway is under track-laying construction. Photo: Courtesy of the Hungarian branch of CREC

The Hungarian section of the Hungary-Serbia railway is under track-laying construction. Photo: Courtesy of the Hungarian branch of CREC

A track-laying machine made a rumbling sound as concrete sleepers are placed on the roadbed. Two-hundred-meter-long rails extend and fall steadily onto the sleepers through a mix of manual labor and high-tech machinery.

This has become a common scene during track-laying construction on the Hungarian section of the Hungary-Serbia railway, the flagship cooperative project under China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Here, extended railway lines are connecting scattered cities into an accessible and dynamic network, linking Hungary and Serbia, two Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries ever closer together.

Engaged in a wide range of fields such as transportation, high-end manufacturing and mining, Chinese companies have been actively promoting economic development in the regional countries. The companies bring with them advanced technology, high-tech equipment, modern management concept, and integrate them to better meet local development needs, contributing to the economic growth and improvement of the people’s livelihood there.

As the BRI now enters its second golden decade, this week’s state visits by China’s top leader chart the course for cooperation between China and the two CEE countries in their respective pursuit of high-quality development.

A number of Chinese companies rooted in Serbia and Hungary for many years have recently shared with the Global Times how they have achieved win-win cooperation and development under the BRI framework. The companies are looking forward to embracing new opportunities for high-quality development in the two countries.

Promotion of synergy

Along a section of the Hungary-Serbia railway in Hungary, which is been built by a Chinese company, track laying work is progressing smoothly. Since the job officially commenced at the end of May last year, about 70 percent of track laying work within the section has been completed, with the overall project completion rate exceeding 55 percent, the Global Times learned.

By the time of its completion, the regional transportation network will be significantly improved, providing greater convenience for both passengers and cargo delivery across the CEE economies.

The Hungary-Serbia railway could well illustrate how China’s BRI projects can help promote the regional economic synergy.

At a heavy equipment manufacturing plant in Ruma, Serbia, excavators and haulage vehicles were seen navigate through the site, accompanied by the rhythmic sounds of welding, cutting, and hammering. Amid this activity, workers diligently carry out tasks such as reinforcing steel bars and pouring foundation concrete, ensuring an organized and efficient work flow.

China Construction First Group has participated in the construction of the new factory project. With a keen focus on meeting the deadline, they aim to complete the prefabricated components during the second half of 2024. Once finished, this facility, owned by the Chinese company Haitian Group, will serve as a pivotal manufacturing hub for equipment like injection molding machines in the European region, the Global Times learned from China Construction First Group.

Chen Shuai, deputy general manager of the Fifth Construction Co, China Construction First Group, told the Global Times that the company is seizing the opportunity presented by the successful execution of the factory project in Serbia, to facilitate the expansion of China’s industrial manufacturing capacity overseas.

As the bilateral strategic partnership relations deepen, Chen holds strong expectations for further tapping into the potential for deeper cooperation for Chinese companies in Serbia.

Specifically, they will ramp up efforts to capitalize on the burgeoning development of infrastructure in Serbia, participating in projects spanning roads, bridges, tunnels, and renewable energy production, among other industrial lines, Chen said.

Serbia Zijin Copper DOO in Bor, Serbia, a joint venture between China’s Zijin Mining Group and Serbia, sets a good example of how the BRI prompts greater synergy in the regional development. By the end of 2023, the copper mine project in Bor had amassed investments totaling $2.498 billion, nearly double the promised investment of $1.26 billion in 2018, the company told the Global Times.

With a cumulative copper production of 356,000 tons and gold production of 9.8 tons, the project contributed nearly $500 million in taxes and fees and made a social contribution of $850 million, according to the company. Also, it created over 9,000 jobs. In 2023, the company achieved export revenues of around $720 million, significantly promoting the mutual development of stakeholders in Serbia.

Looking ahead, the company plans to add $1.2 billion in new investments in the next three years. The goal is to increase copper production of the copper mine in Bor from currently 120,000 tons per year to 220,000 tons per year by 2030, the company said.

High-quality growth

As the BRI embarks on its new journey after10 years of golden development, more possibilities will emerge in the cooperation between China and the regional countries.

The meetings between the top leaders of China and the regional countries this week have set the tone for deepening the bilateral ties while pushing the cooperation toward high-quality development.

In the joint statement signed on Wednesday between China and Serbia, both sides vowed to take the opportunity of entering a new stage of high-quality development in the joint construction of the BRI. They aim to deepen and expand cooperation in various fields, including trade, investment, technology innovation, digitalization, and telecommunications.

Meanwhile, China and Hungary are also expected to sign multiple cooperation agreements following the important meetings between leaders of the two countries, injecting new momentum into the development of bilateral relations.

In a recent interview with the Global Times, Chinese Ambassador to Hungary Gong Tao said that, in the future, both sides will continue to promote high-quality joint construction of the BRI, focusing on key areas such as digital economy, green development, and information technology.

During recent years, China has actively promoted cooperation with the CEE countries under the BRI. This initiative has yielded tangible benefits for the region, effectively enhancing connectivity between China, Eastern Europe, and the broader European region, Song Wei, a professor from the School of International Relations at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times on Thursday, describing China-CEE cooperation as a role model for cross-regional collaboration.

Despite the marked progress, economic development in CEE is still encountering some challenges, including poverty reduction, and how to achieve faster economic modernization in the region, according to Song.

Song emphasized that amid the pursuit of high-quality cooperation and partnership, China will remain committed to further supporting CEE countries in integrating them into the global value chain.

Specifically, Song said that enhancing mutual investment programs, including on setting up joint investment funds, would incentivize more local enterprises in CEE to participate in the BRI.

The countries in the region are eager to draw from China’s successful developmental experiences. Therefore, both sides may intensify efforts to collaborate on a series of training programs and exchanges, facilitating mutual learning and development in the future, Song said.

“The commitment aims to foster closer economic and trade ties between China and the CEE economies, assisting the region to better tackle its corresponding challenges in the future,” Song said.

China will continue to assist Asia-Pacific countries to rapidly develop their economies under BRI framework: experts

An electric multiple unit (EMU) machinist trainee tries the high-speed train simulator at Tegalluar High Speed Train Depot of the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway in Bandung, Indonesia, on January 17, 2024. Photo: VCG

An electric multiple unit (EMU) machinist trainee tries the high-speed train simulator at Tegalluar High Speed Train Depot of the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway in Bandung, Indonesia, on January 17, 2024. Photo: VCG

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently concluded his successful visit to three Asia-Pacific countries, displaying China’s willingness to strengthen cooperation with the region.  As good friends and economic partners based on mutual respect, equality, and mutual benefit, China’s relations with regional countries are evolving and constantly reaching new heights.

One important focus of Wang’s trip was the high-quality construction of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China’s cooperation with Indonesia, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea under the BRI platform has yielded fruitful results.

In Indonesia, the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway has become the first high-speed railroad in Southeast Asia, delivering tangible benefits to local development and improving livelihoods of many Indonesians.

In Cambodia, highways constructed with Chinese aid and industrial parks built by Chinese companies have become important drivers of local economic development.

As the first Pacific island country to sign a memorandum of understanding and cooperation with China under the BRI, Papua New Guinea has become China’s largest trading partner, investment destination, and engineering contracting market in Pacific island countries. 

Unlike the US’ past efforts in the Asia-Pacific region, often attached with political strings and hardly bearing any substantive results, China’s cooperation and assistance to the countries in the region are based on principles of mutual respect, equality, and win-win, without imposition of any political conditions, experts said.

As the BRI celebrated its 10th anniversary last year, embarking on a new journey of high-quality development, experts said that China’s cooperation with Asia-Pacific countries will continue to focus on helping regional countries achieve sustainable development and improve locals’ livelihood. This includes enhancing cooperation in emerging areas such as green development and digitalization.

Friends and partners

During Chinese Foreign Minister Wang’s recent visit, important exchange meetings with regional countries were held, including the Fourth Meeting of the China-Indonesia High-level Dialogue Cooperation Mechanism co-chaired by Wang and Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinator for cooperation with China and coordinating minister of maritime affairs and investment, as well as the Seventh Meeting of the China-Cambodia Intergovernmental Coordination Committee, co-chaired by Wang and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chanthol.

High-level interactions provided clearer direction for future cooperation under the BRI between China and the three countries. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian, while describing Wang’s visits, used a common description when referring to the three countries as “good friends and good partners” based on the principles of mutual respect, equality, mutual benefit and shared development.

That characterization is fair and fitting, given the well-known friendly relations between these three countries and China, experts said, noting that the joint construction of the BRI serves as an accelerator for the continuous growth and enhancement of friendly cooperation between China and the regional countries.

The tangible results under the joint initiative are evident for all to see. 

Last week, the Jakarta-Bandung High-Speed Railway marked its sixth month of operation with a total of 2.56 million passengers being transported. Since its official operation around mid-October, the railway has operated a total of 7,050 rides with a mileage of over 1.26 million kilometers, Xinhua News Agency reported, citing data provided by PT Kereta Cepat Indonesia-China, a joint venture consortium between Indonesian and Chinese state-owned firms that constructs and runs the HSR.

In the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, a landmark project under the BRI in southwestern Cambodia, changes have taken place with the participation of Chinese companies. Over the past decade, the economic zone, a joint venture between Chinese and Cambodian companies, has drawn more than 175 companies from countries including China, Europe, the US, Southeast Asia and other regions to settle there, creating more than 30,000 local jobs.

Papua New Guinea, the largest Pacific Island country, was the first country to sign a memorandum of understanding and cooperation plan in the region for jointly building the BRI.

The Juncao and Upland Rice Project has been implemented in Papua New Guinea for over 20 years, benefiting more than 40,000 local people. The country’s Prime Minister James Marape referred to Juncao technology as a “gift from China to the world,” with Juncao now known locally as the “grass of happiness” and “grass of prosperity.”

China and Papua New Guinea are engaging in negotiations to reach a free trade agreement, and the talks are expected to be completed by June, Chen Hong, director of the Australian Studies Center of East China Normal University, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

Chen noted that this illustrates that China’s cooperation with Asia-Pacific countries is genuinely based on mutual benefit, using strong economic ties to drive overall cooperation and improve local economies and living standards.

China’s foreign minister’s trip to the Asia-Pacific is of landmark significance as the current relations between China and the regional countries have continued to improve and have reached a very important moment, Zhao Gancheng, a research fellow from the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Against the background of a volatile international landscape, China continues to adhere to multilateralism and inclusive growth in the region, despite the protectionism and egoism of the US, Zhao said.

China’s cooperation with the countries differs significantly from that of the US-led West, which often prioritizes its own strategic objectives before local interests, Chen said.

Stark contrast

While the US pledges in the Asia-Pacific often fails to materialize, resulting in empty promises and broad disappointment, China’s cooperation under the BRI in the region is in stark contrast – Chinese involvement directly improves education, healthcare, employment and more in the region, Chen said.

During Wang’s visit in Indonesia, he referenced public expectations to expand bilateral cooperation in three key directions – digital economy, green development, and improvement of people’s livelihood, under the framework of the BRI.

As the BRI is entering a new phase of high-quality development, new opportunities in green economy and digital economy are emerging as countries pursue sustainable development. The extent of Belt and Road cooperation in Asia-Pacific will undoubtedly be expanded to include new frontiers like clean renewable energies and electric vehicles and more, which also signify new quality productive forces in the coming wave of high-quality development, Chen said.

What needs to be tackled next, according to Zhao, is to complete cooperation projects that were disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, China’s cooperation with regional countries will always be kept as open and transparent and lead to more tangible results for local residents. 

“Infrastructure development have been and will continue to be an important part of the BRI cooperation in building quality roads, bridges, railways and other crucial infrastructure,” Zhao said. The economic partnership will only get closer and stronger, he added.