Serbia reaches out for China’s helping hand in coronavirus fight


As China’s coronavirus outbreak appeared to be under control last week, Beijing has resumed its diplomatic activities all over Europe.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: AP

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. Photo: AP

On the one hand, there have been provisions of medical equipment – either at market price or for free – to the worst-hit countries such as Italy and Spain. On the other, Chinese officials have been organising sharing sessions with less-developed countries in central and eastern Europe, 17 of which have joined China’s “17+1” platform.

One such meeting took place in Belgrade last week – a video conference with Chinese health officials and experts attended by dozens of heads of medical institutes, hospitals and government representatives from Serbia.

Poland, Greece, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, have also been in touch with Chinese medical experts, according to state media reports in China.

Animosity between Brussels and the Balkan states has drawn the region closer to China. Last year, an initial plan for accession talks by Albania and North Macedonia to join the bloc was struck down single-handedly by French President Emmanuel Macron, who argued for changes to EU enlargement rules to be made first.

Vucic, for his part, laid bare Serbians’ grievances with the EU over the coronavirus outbreak this week. “As of today, as you know, we cannot import [medical equipment] according to an EU resolution,” he said on Monday. “European solidarity doesn’t exist. That was a fairy tale on paper.

“When they needed Serbian money, tenders would be drawn up in such a way that European companies could get Serbian money. When there is a torment and pain, then Serbian money is no good, as if we asked for everything for free.”

An unsigned commentary piece published by state news agency Xinhua took a veiled swipe at the European Union’s failure to assist the region: “A friend in need is a friend indeed. Confronted with the same challenge, China and the [Central and Eastern European countries] can achieve final victory through solidarity and mutual assistance.

“When handshakes are no longer encouraged in Europe, China’s helping hand could make a difference,” it added.


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