French companies Alstom and Egis, along with China’s Power Construction, signed a memorandum of understanding to build a subway in Belgrade, Serbia.
The project is expected to cost about EUR 4.4 billion according to Reuters and consists of two lines stretching 22 and 20 km respectively.
“Drilling of the tunnels should start next year,” Serbian Finance Minister Sinisa Mali said at the signing ceremony. The project is expected to be completed in 2028.
The memorandum of understanding is a product of separate strategic partnership agreements between Serbia, France, and China, Mali added.
Belgrade Deputy Mayor Goran Vesic said in October that Power Construction and Alstom will share 70% and 30% of the construction value.
In 2020, the French government said it would provide EUR 581 million for infrastructure projects in Serbia, of which EUR 454 million will be allocated to the Belgrade metro. The Serbian government will finance the rest of its budget.
Serbia is a candidate country for membership in the European Union, which is also its main trading partner, but it maintains close economic ties with China, which has invested billions of euros in infrastructure and energy.
In 2013, the Leader of the Communist Party of China, and the country’s president Xi Jinping announced his new plan to the world. He spoke of a China-led “Silk Road Economic Belt” based on the principle of the old trade route that connected east to west, centuries ago.
Promising a “win-win” situation for all those involved, and stating that China would never interfere in the internal affairs of the countries involved, interest was minimal and non-committal.
Fast forward several years and the “One Belt, One Road” (BRI) project has signed up more than 124 countries and 29 international organizations to date.
In Europe, fragmented information confirms that Chinese state-owned enterprises have major stakes in twelve ports including Piraeus harbor. The government also has large shares in the Maltese state-owned energy company- a deal that has been clouded by controversies and allegations of kickbacks to Maltese politicians and the murder of a journalist.
China also controls a significant percentage of the continent’s airports including Heathrow, Toulouse, and Frankfurt.
Following accusations of working to control countries through possession of their infrastructure, and “debt-trap diplomacy” the Chinese stand firm in their denials.
In terms of the Chinese relationship with Serbia, it has gone from strength to strength in recent years. The EU hopeful has purchased a number of drones, missiles, and biometric surveillance cameras from the country. They also opened a Huawei Tech Centre days after pledging to the US that they would ban “untrusted vendors“.
They are also the first country in Europe to receive China’s anti-COVID vaccine. They were given 1 million doses in mid-January.
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