Premier Li Keqiang and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic wave to crowds during the inauguration ceremony for the Mihajlo Pupin Bridge in Belgrade on Dec 18. The bridge is the first to be built by China in Europe.[Photo/Xinhua]
The first new bridge for decades over the River Danube in Belgrade, which was inaugurated on Dec 18, has cemented friendship and cooperation between Serbia and China.
Premier Li Keqiang and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic inaugurated the $260 million Chinese-built structure.
It connects the southern industrial district of Zemun with the northern residential area of Borca in the Serbian capital.
The Mihajlo Pupin Bridge, named after a renowned Serbian scientist, which completes a ring road in the city, is 1,500 meters long and has four lanes. It cuts the traveling time across the Danube from more than an hour to about 10 minutes, significantly reducing the traffic burden in a city of 1.2 million.
Before the new link was built, there was only one bridge spanning the Danube in the fourth-largest city in the Balkans.
During the inauguration ceremony, held at the bridge, Li said its construction with Chinese technology and equipment meeting European Union standards has not only shortened travel time, but also linked the hearts of the two nations’ peoples.
Vucic said completion of the bridge shows that Serbia has overcome deep historical frustrations, and it marks the start of infrastructure cooperation between China and Serbia.
Because the structure is the first Chinese-built bridge in Europe, and financed mostly by a Chinese loan, Beijing views the project as a steppingstone to a huge potential market for infrastructure upgrading in Central and Eastern Europe.
Neighboring Bosnia has agreed to projects worth $1.7 billion to be financed by China, while Montenegro has chosen a Chinese company to build a 800-million-euro ($984 million) stretch of motorway linking it with Serbia, according to Reuters.
Li visited Serbia to meet leaders from 16 Central and Eastern European countries.
He said in a written interview with local media, “Projects like the Stanari Thermal Power Plant in Bosnia, the Mihajlo Pupin Bridge in Belgrade, the Bar-Boljare motorway in Montenegro and the Budapest to Belgrade railway will certainly promote local development and benefit the local population.”
Also on Dec 17, China and Serbia agreed on a credit line to expand a 350-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Belgrade, the first to be built in the former Yugoslav republic in 25 years. The plant is scheduled to start operating in 2019, Reuters reported.
Zhao Junjie, a researcher of European studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said infrastructure cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries can help China with export restructuring.
Li was made an honorary citizen of Belgrade late on Dec 18 for his “great personal contribution and support” to the city. He later left for Thailand, the last stop on a three-nation tour.